Summa Contra Divorcio

Summa Contra Divorcio

Marriage is to be for life and the fact a man is not prohibited by God from having more than one wife is the context to view what comes next.  Pay particular attention to God speaking to the men of Israel and His references to the man’s spirit, or conscience.

“And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.  Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’  Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  But not one who has done so has a remnant of the Spirit.  And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring?  Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.  ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts.  So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”  Malachi 2:13-16.  Emphasis added.

It was treacherous of the men to divorce their wives when the wife no longer pleased them because they were not required to get rid of her in order to take another.  She gave up her beauty and youth keeping his home and bearing his children and she had the right to be loved, supported and treated with dignity as she grew older.   Notice that God did not say ‘take heed to the traditions and teachings of Moses’ but rather ‘take heed to your spirit.’

What Most Protestants Don’t Understand About Divorce

Moses, sitting as a judge over Israel, obviously had a case come before him of a woman who had been thrown out by her husband.  She couldn’t return to her father’s house because she was married.  She couldn’t marry another because that would be adultery- a death penalty offense.  She had no way to live other than by becoming a prostitute and that would be a sin.  Moses made a concession to the women which allowed the women to remarry without the charge of being an adulteress.  His judgment was that if the man was so hardhearted as to throw out his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce so she could prove she was lawfully divorced.   There was no family court in that day; it was the man who had the authority to initiate marriage and it was the man who divorced his wife simply by presenting her before the elders and publicly giving her a certificate of divorce.

In Matthew 19:3-9 we find an interesting exchange.  The Pharisees came to Jesus with a legal question concerning this judgment of Moses.  They asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.  There were two schools of thought in that day: one was that a man could divorce his wife for literally any reason she might displease him, the other was that divorce was only allowed for infidelity.   Pay careful attention to how Jesus answered their legal question.  He went back to Genesis two and said “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.”  Without referencing Moses, Jesus clearly said divorce is not allowed.

The Pharisees immediately cited Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in which Moses published his judgment with respect to divorce.  Jesus responded saying “Moses permitted you…”  It is important to see that everyone present knew exactly what was being said and what the issues were:  It was not God that permitted divorce in His Law, but rather Moses the judge who permitted it.  After acknowledging that Moses had indeed allowed divorce, Jesus said “but from the beginning it was not so.”  So, twice we see Jesus is saying God’s design and intention is that marriage is for life.  In Matthew 23:1-3, Jesus said the Scribes and Pharisees sat in the seat of Moses and the people were to do all that they commanded them to do.  Jesus, in His earthly ministry as a man, was likewise subject to their authority.  With that in mind we notice that Jesus interpreted the judgment of Moses in the strictest of terms.

That raises the question:  After making it clear that He didn’t like the judgment, did the Lord ever get around to reversing it?  When we look at 1st  Corinthians 7:10-11, we see Paul taking great care to say this is a command from the Lord: the wife is not to separate and the husband must not divorce his wife.   Yes, He did overturn the judgment of Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Looking at it in that manner, it becomes impossible to reasonably say that divorce is allowed because of what Jesus said in the Gospels.  Jesus was discussing a situation that resulted from a judgment by His servant Moses.  The case was brought before Him by those who sat in the seat of Moses and they went down in flames during oral argument.  All Jesus did was acknowledge the precedent and clarify the interpretation of the precedent but He clearly didn’t like it.  He issued His ruling on the subject in 1st Corinthians 7:10-11.

But what about Matthew 5:31-32?  To answer that question, we need to take a look at the Greek word apolellumenẽn, which is translated as ‘a divorced woman’ in both Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9.  In order for Matthew 5:31-32 to be understood, we need to recognize the word means ‘the innocent spouse, unjustifiably dismissed by her licentious husband.’  (translation by Spiros Zodhiates.)

And it was said, whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  Matthew 5:31-32.

The only way the ‘divorced woman’ could be committing adultery was if she was still legitimately married to the husband who divorced her.  In other words, Jesus is saying God will not accept an illegitimate divorce, not that it’s OK to divorce your spouse if they’re unfaithful.  Effectively, we have a situation in which the State is claiming a person is divorced with all the attendant consequences, but that person is not divorced as far as God is concerned.  This is what the church should be teaching.

The clear meaning of Matthew 5:31-32, taken in conjunction with 1st Corinthians 7:10-11 is that from God’s perspective, a Christian woman cannot divorce her Christian husband for any reason and likewise a Christian husband cannot divorce his Christian wife for any reason.  Yet, experience tells us this is happening.  This is reduced to a single question:

Who do you worship:  The State or God?

In 1st Corinthians 7:10-11, the believing wife is told she is not to separate from her believing husband, but if she does, she is to remain single or be reconciled to her husband.  In 1st Peter 3:1, we see the wife is told to submit to her husband even if he is in disobedience to the Word, and obviously adultery is disobedience to the Word.  Later in 1st Corinthians 7:12-17, Paul says the wife is not to divorce her unbelieving husband if he is content to live with her.  Paul obviously recognizes a wife’s legal capacity to drag her husband into the secular courts of the world and divorce him, but the Lord commanded the wife not to separate, much less divorce.  Separation is the lesser aspect of divorce.  In keeping with the entirety of Scripture, nowhere does the wife have the authority to divorce her husband except in the case of the believing woman whose unbelieving husband will not stay with her.

The law of the bondservant (Exodus 21:2-6) says if the man wants to leave the service of the master, and the master provided him with a wife, he leaves without the wife.  Let’s reverse that to comprehend what Paul said:  If the man wants to leave the wife that his master gave him, he has to leave the service of the master.  Think about that and look at 1st Corinthians 7:12-17 again.  The two passages are in perfect agreement.

Servants obey their master because he is the master and they are servants.  In the case of Christians, the Master said His servants are not to divorce.  Notice that if the unbeliever left, the left-behind believing spouse was free to remarry.  Can the marriage covenant be broken because one spouse or the other violated it, for example, by committing adultery?  No.  The covenant isn’t broken until one spouse or the other breaks faith with the one who established the covenant (the Lord) and leaves.

The only permissible divorce for a Christian is when their unbelieving spouse departs from them.

The State Takes Control Of Marriage

There is always someone who wants out of their marriage and the practical solution was to remove marriage from the control of the Church and give it to the State.  These people say “The State is ordained of God, so how could a properly legal divorce granted by the State not be a legitimate divorce?”   In the same way that bowing down to idols won’t make them god’s, but it will make the Lord angry with you for doing it.  Do not render to Caesar that which belongs to God.  It’s idolatry.

(  Legal = State’s Law       …       Lawful = God’s Law  )

If a believing wife legally divorces her believing husband, the divorce is illegitimate (cf. Matthew 5:31-32) and they are still lawfully married.  Separated they may be, legally divorced, but not lawfully divorced.  1st Corinthians 7:10-11 says the wife is not to separate from her husband, but if she does separate (with no reason specified regarding violence, child abuse, sin, ignorance, wrong doctrine, STD’s or bad breath), she is to remain single or be reconciled to her husband.  Not with her ex-husband or former husband, but with her husband.

The believing husband has the right to take another wife and thus isn’t sentenced to celibacy by his wife’s disobedience.  She was commanded not to separate, but if she did she was commanded to either remain single or be reconciled to him.  The man was told no such thing and he can take another wife, not because his wife’s sin enabled him, but because he always had the right to do so.  Wives are bound to their husbands as long as he lives but husbands aren’t limited to having only a single wife bound to them.  Her sin of dragging him through family court simply means the husband is not legally impaired from taking another wife.

According to Deuteronomy 24:4, if a man divorced his wife and she married another she could never return to him regardless of whether the second husband died or divorced her.  This is the clearest indictment of serial monogamy as sin in all of Scripture.  There is some question as to whether a Christian wife who divorced her husband and married another man could return to her first husband at any point after that.   Is the wife’s second marriage valid?  She was already married and commanded to remain single.  If the second marriage was invalid the arrangement was institutionalized adultery and the wife, upon repenting of her sin, would be free to return to her husband.

The husband, commanded in 1st Peter 3:7 to live with his wife is required to reconcile himself with her if she returns in repentance.  Commanded to love her as Christ loves the church, he’d be required to receive her regardless of what she’s done because Christ always seeks reconciliation and the return of repentant sinners.  No wonder the Disciples said its better not to marry:  They understood what the Lord was saying.  If you marry her… you’re stuck with her.  She can go a whoring and she’s still your bride… just like Christ and His gone-a-whoring church… individuals of which occasionally repent and come back to Him.

Q:  What if the wife is convicted of her sin and desires to return to her husband, but he has since married another woman?

The husband is required to love his wife and live with her, so how can he refuse to be reconciled to wife #1?  Having more than one wife is no bar to reconciliation because nothing in Scripture says a man can’t have more than one wife.  The only problem would be if the husband doesn’t explain that issue to wife #2 before they get married.  If she thinks she’s getting a monogamous marriage, he’s laying the groundwork to defraud her if he says nothing.

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10 Responses to Summa Contra Divorcio

  1. donalgraeme says:

    A very compelling argument. I have a quick question: What translation of the Bible did you use for your scriptural quotes?

  2. I study with the NASB, which is where the quotes come from in this post. If the translation is contentious I’ll render from the Greek or Hebrew myself. In this case it isn’t, the issue is one in which people desire to see an excuse for divorce rather than read the text for what it actually says.

  3. Pingback: The Bright Red Line « Artisanal Toad's Hall

  4. Marlon says:

    “except for the cause of unchastity”

    How then do you look at the above phrase in Matt 5:31-32?

    Is it that the law, properly interpreted, allowed for divorce if one party was unfaithful; while in Christ, this ‘loophole’ is closed?

    • Divorce between believers is forbidden. Divorce between a believer and an unbeliever is permitted if the unbeliever leaves. 1st Corinthians 7:10-17. Thus, I would say the answer to your question is yes. Under the Law, according to the judgment of Moses in Deut. 24:1-4, divorce was allowed and as Christ said, only for the cause of unchastity.

  5. deLaune says:

    Excellent summation.
    I have studied with people from the Indian Orthodox church (Biblical scholarship combined with knowledge of the old eastern customs). Their take is the same as yours: adultery, even by the wife, isn’t grounds for divorce. God’s Word requires that the husband take her back if she repents.
    They also understood Matthew 5:32 in light of Deuteronomy 22:13-21–a divorce between believers could only be legitimate if the woman (and her mother or guardian) lied about her being a virgin before marriage. If she didn’t lie about her history then divorce would not be allowed–the man went into it with his eyes open (like Hosea).
    This really highlights the godly mercy in the heart of Joseph when he discovered that Mary was pregnant before they came together. He was going to quietly divorce her when, under the law, he was perfectly justified in exposing her publically and having her stoned to death.

  6. infowarrior1 says:

    Anyway are you single now or married?

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