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Divorce laws in America are so lax that almost anyone can dissolve a marriage and remarry at any time for any reason. With "no-fault" divorce, a husband or wife can claim "incompatibility" or "irreconcilable differences" and get a divorce no matter how much their spouse objects.
Men will be judged according to whether or not we have conformed our lives to His will (John 12:48). Man's will often differs from God's (Prov. 14:12; Isa. 55:8,9; 2 Cor. 10:12,18; Lk. 16:15,18). Since the Bible reveals God's will, we must learn what it says about divorce and remarriage (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 1 Cor. 14:37; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:21).
Note that there is one exception to this general rule, which we will discuss later. At this point we are discussing the general rule. The following passages present this teaching:
Jesus was asked whether divorce can properly be obtained for just any reason a person might have. He answered by appealing to the original marriage law.
Jesus taught that divorce itself, in general, is contrary to God's will. God made one man for one woman, indicating He did not intend for either to marry anyone else. He said they should cleave to one another and the two become one - there is no room in God's plan for a third party. God joins the man and woman, no human has the right to break that bond.
Further, whoever divorces his wife and marries again commits adultery (unless he does it because she has been guilty of fornication), and whoever marries her who has been divorced also commits adultery. (Mk. 10 adds that this rule also applies to the woman if she divorces her husband.)
To help understand the passage, read it with your name and your spouse's name, instead of "whosoever," etc.
Matthew 19:9 - If ____________ (you) divorces __________ (his wife), except for fornication, and marries another, _________________ (you) commits adultery; and whoever marries ___________ (her who is divorced) commits adultery."
One who puts away his wife (for some cause other than fornication) causes her to commit adultery. This assumes that she remarries as described in the last part of the verse and as implied in the previous verse (the purpose of the "bill of divorcement" according to the law was so she could become another man's wife - Deut. 24:1ff).
By divorcing his wife, the husband puts her in the position where she is strongly tempted to remarry and if she does remarry, Jesus says she is guilty of adultery and so is the man she marries (in contrast to the Mosaic Law which tolerated the remarriage). Hence, the divorce itself is wrong and should be avoided. [Cf. Matt. 18:6,7]
A married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives. This means that if she is married to another man while her first husband is alive, she is guilty of adultery. She is free to remarry without guilt only if her husband is dead.
(Some ask what "law" is this that joins the man and woman - God's law or man's law? It is the law which, when violated, makes the woman an adulteress. Clearly this must be God's law, and this conforms to what is taught elsewhere.)
A married woman should not depart from her husband nor he from her. Again, divorce itself is not the will of God.
But if she departs (if divorce has occurred), she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. Clearly remarriage is not a scriptural alternative.
(Note: "depart" here is the same word elsewhere translated "put asunder" - Matt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9: The result of the action is that the woman is "unmarried.")
The teaching of the gospel on this point is unpopular with most people. Many people don't want to hear it preached. Jesus' own disciples considered it very strict (Matt. 19:10-12), still Jesus did not compromise it or apologize for it. He continued to teach and defend it and so must we.
God clearly has the right to forbid any act if He so chooses, but it helps us apply the teaching when we understand His reasons for forbidding an act. What reason does God give for declaring the second marriage sinful, and why does He call it "adultery"?
God hates putting away (v16). Again, divorce is contrary to God's will. Why? Because marriage is a covenant between a man and his wife (v14). God is a witness to that covenant, and He holds men to it (v14). If a man violates the covenant, he is dealing treacherously with his wife and God will hold him accountable. [Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8]
Though this is an Old Testament passage, it helps us learn the definition of marriage, which has not changed. Marriage is, by God's definition, a solemn mutual agreement between a man and woman to live together as husband and wife. God holds them to that covenant bond and will not free them from it, even if people declare them to be free.
Remember this! The whole foundation of New Testament teaching regarding divorce rests on God's attitude toward marriage. When people weaken the barriers against divorce, they are weakening respect for marriage. Divorce matters because it destroys a marriage, and marriage is very important to God. Any view of divorce, which fails to respect marriage as God respects it, must be an unscriptural view.
This is why Jesus, in answering a question about divorce and remarriage, appealed to God's original intent regarding marriage (Matt. 19:3-9). God will respect and enforce His law regarding it, even when men disregard it!
The marriage covenant includes the right and obligation to have the sexual union only with the companion with whom we have a Scriptural marriage covenant. To have relations with anyone else is "fornication" or "adultery."
This too is part of the marriage covenant as God defines it. Marriage gives a man and his wife the right to the sexual union, but only with their lawful spouse.
[Ezek. 23; Jer. 3; Prov. 5:15-20; 6:29,32; 7:18-20; Ezek. 16:32; 1 Cor. 7:1-9].
In this marriage covenant, the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39). The marriage "bond" is a lifetime covenant commitment, and God holds people to the commitment they made, even if later they try to break it.
Note that the passage says a woman may be "bound" to one man, but "married" to another man! The "bond" refers to the marriage covenant that God holds you to. "Marriage" refers to the relationship you are living in as recognized by civil law and society. The two may be the same, but not necessarily. In this case, the woman was "bound" to one man but "married" to a completely different man!
That is why a woman is guilty of adultery if she is married to another man. Adultery, by definition, refers to sexual intercourse between two people, one of whom is bound by a marriage covenant to somebody else [see definitions in notes on Matt. 19:9].
This woman is an "adulteress" because she has been joined in a marriage covenant with one man, and God holds her to that covenant for life. But she is having sexual relations with another man, and that, by definition, is adultery. This passage defines adultery for us!
Note that anytime she has sexual relations with a man other than her scriptural mate it is adultery - as long as her first companion is living, the passage says. Whether she has just a single act of intercourse, or has an "affair" involving a number of adulterous acts over a period of time, or whether it is a second marriage to another man - in any case every time she has sexual union with another man the passage says she is guilty of adultery.
This is "adultery" because the woman is Scripturally committed to have the sexual union only with one man as long as he lives, but instead she is having it with another man. This is why it is proper to refer to the second marriage as "adulterous" or "living in adultery," just as it would be if she were living with him but not married to him (Col. 3:5-7).
What reason is given why remarriage is forbidden and why it is called "adultery"? Because God declared man and woman should cleave to one another. He joins them (by witnessing their marriage covenant and holding them to it). He forbids their changing their mind and says no man can put their marriage asunder.
So, if man puts away his wife and marries another, the second marriage is "adultery" because he is having the sexual union with a second wife while God still holds him obligated to his covenant to have the sexual union only with his first wife.
Note again: the terms "marry" and "divorce" (or "put away," and also "husband" and "wife") as used here and elsewhere, refer to the relationship as viewed by society and the law of the land. In a first marriage, both God and society recognize the marriage commitment to exist between the man and woman. They are both "married" in the eyes of society and "joined" ("bound") in the eyes of God.
Society and civil law may then grant them a "divorce" (not for fornication) and they may "marry" again. Society and civil law then views them as free from their first marriage and entered into a second one, and the Bible calls this "divorced" ("put away") and "married" again. But though God uses these terms as society does, He does not recognize the divorce as making a valid end to the covenant commitment that He recognized in the first marriage. God still considers them "bound" or "joined" or held accountable for the commitment of the first marriage (v6).
There is a definite distinction between the covenant commitment (bond) which God recognizes and the divorce and marriage which civil law recognizes. (cf. Mk. 6:17,18)
Again, the second marriage is "adultery" because the person is still joined in God's eyes to his/her first spouse, but they are having a sexual relationship with a second spouse. That is adultery, and it will continue to be adultery every time they have the sexual relationship, because God has still "joined" them to their first spouse and He will not "put asunder" that bond.
This explains why, if a woman divorces her husband, she still has no right to remarry. She may get divorced in the eyes of civil law, and God calls it "divorce" and says she is now "unmarried." But that does not free her from her bond or covenant obligation to her first husband. Since she is still bound to her first marriage covenant, her only choice then is to be reconciled to her husband (the one God recognizes) or else remain unmarried.
Sexual relationship outside of a Scriptural marriage bond constitutes fornication (v2-5). Hence, if the woman divorces and remarries, that second marriage, as long as it lasted and as long as her first husband was still alive, would constitute adultery.
Understanding these principles will be vital to reaching proper applications and answers to other questions we will deal with.
[Note that adultery involves a sexual act - John 8:4; Heb. 13:4; Prov. 6:20-35. It is not just the act of divorcing and remarrying that is adultery.]
"Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" ("saving for the cause of fornication" - Matt. 5:32).
The question originally asked Jesus concerned the grounds or cause for which a man may divorce his wife (v3). In v9 Jesus clearly says there is no acceptable cause except if ones companion has been guilty of fornication.
Unlike the Mosaic Law, which Jesus admits tolerated divorce and remarriage for other causes, Jesus' teaching allows one and only one cause.
Note that the only one who is granted the right to divorce and remarry without being guilty of sin is the one who has been sinned against by his/her companion who committed fornication.
Definitions: "illicit sexual intercourse in general" (Thayer); "every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse" (Arndt and Gingrich). Fornication includes any form of sexual intercourse with anyone other than ones scriptural spouse, regardless of whether that person be of the opposite sex or of the same sex. Note passages that explain the meaning:
1 Corinthians 7:2-5 - To avoid fornication, one is to satisfy the sexual desire with and only with "his own wife" or "her own husband." Our own marriage companion is the only one who has power over our body. If we satisfy this desire with anyone else, the passage says it would be fornication, whether it be with someone we are not married to, someone else's husband or wife, or someone else of the same sex (i.e., homosexuality). (See also Heb. 13:4).
Jude 7 - Sodom and Gomorrah gave themselves over to fornication. But Gen. 19 shows this refers to homosexuality (men wanted to lie with men, not with women) ["and going after strange flesh" has the significance of even going after...]. Therefore, homosexuality is a form of fornication, and would be scriptural grounds for one's companion to obtain a divorce and remarry.
Some say fornication would not include adultery (i.e., the case in which one who is married has relations with someone not their spouse). But the following passages use "fornication" to include extra-marital sex: 1 Cor. 5:1; Amos 7:17; Ezek. 16:8,15,26,29; Jer. 3:6,8. Jesus used "fornication" in order to include, not just extra-marital sex, but also premarital sex and homosexuality - any form of illicit sexual intercourse.
When a man and woman marry, they make a covenant to have the sexual relationship only with one another and with no one else (of the same or opposite sex) as long as they both shall live. If one companion violates that covenant by having sexual relations with any person other than their own spouse, he/she has violated the marriage covenant in such a way that God grants their partner the right to divorce them and remarry.
The New Testament teaching regarding divorce and remarriage can be summarized like this: When a man and woman marry, they enter into a lifetime covenant in which God binds or joins them, holding them accountable to keep this covenant. If there is a divorce for some cause other than fornication, God's will is violated; and if either or both remarry, the second marriage relationship(s) is (are) adultery because God still holds the people bound to the first marriage commitment. If during the first marriage, however, one companion commits fornication, then the other companion may choose to obtain a divorce and remarry without sin.
Some people believe that Jesus' teaching regarding divorce and remarriage was addressed only to those who are in covenant relationship with Him (disciples, Christians, members of His church). It does not apply to people outside the church since they are not citizens in Christ's kingdom, not members of the body of which He is the head, etc.
It is argued that people outside Christ are condemned because they have not subjected themselves to Christ or because they have violated God's universal moral law; but until they become Christians, God does not notice or hold them accountable for violations of specific New Testament teachings such as divorce laws.
So it is concluded that, no matter how many times such people divorce and remarry before they become Christians, when they are baptized they just keep the companion they have then. But consider the following points:
Jesus is not just Head of the church or King of His kingdom. There are other positions He holds that show that all men are obligated to obey Him. He is:
John 1:1,14; 20:28,29; Phil. 2:6-8; Col. 2:9. If He possesses Deity, all people must obey His rules.
Rev. 17:14; 1:5; 19:16. Hence, He possesses authority over all people on earth, even the highest of human authorities.
John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16. If He created all things, then all must obey Him (cf. Acts 17:24,30,31).
Matt. 28:18; John 3:31; Acts 10:36; Rom. 9:5; l0:12; Phil. 3:20,21; Eph. 1:21; John 17:2; Phil. 2:9-11. As Lord, He is Master or Ruler. His authority extends to all people, regardless of whether or not they are disciples.
Acts 17:30,31 (spoken to unbelieving Gentiles); John 5:22-29; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 25:31-46. Men will be judged according to the teachings of Jesus, even if they reject Him - John 12:48. If they do not obey the gospel, they will be destroyed - 2 Thess. 1:8,9.
Furthermore, the law of Jesus and the law of God are the same. What Jesus taught is what was revealed to Him from the Father (John 12:49f; 17:8,20,21,10; 16:15; Luke 10:16). Hence, people are obligated to obey Jesus' law because it is the law of God, and God's rule is universal.
It follows that all men are obligated to obey Jesus' laws. To deny the duty of all men to obey Christ's commands is to belittle the authority and exalted position of Christ, and also to deny the responsibility of all men to obey God the Father!
James 2:8-12 - Like the Old Testament, the perfect law of liberty is a "whole." We must keep it all or stand condemned as transgressors (cf. Gal. 5:3).
Acts 3:22,23 - We must give heed to Jesus in all things whatever He says or we will be destroyed. This was spoken to people who were not His disciples.
(cf. Matt. 28:18-20; 4:4).
Alien sinners are obligated to obey the gospel commands to believe, repent, and be baptized (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 17:30; 2:38; 22:16; 10:48; 2 Thess. 1:8). If people are not subject to Jesus' law, then how can they be held accountable for refusing to believe, repent, and be baptized (Rom. 4:15)? But clearly all people are accountable to obey Jesus' commands to be forgiven. But these commands are just part of His law which must be taken as a whole. Hence, those outside the church are accountable to the whole system.
If Christ's laws are not binding on people who are outside the church, then how could these people be guilty of sin? 1 John 3:4 - Sin is transgression of God's law (not civil law). If people outside the church are not subject to Jesus' law, and Jesus' law is God's law, then how did these people become sinners (Rom. 4:15)?
The church consists of people who have been saved from sin (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23,25). When a person hears the gospel, believes, repents of sin, confesses, and is baptized for remission of sin, then Jesus' blood forgives his sins (Eph. 1:7; Rev. 1:5; Matt. 26:28; Rom. 5:6-9) and the Lord adds him to the church (Acts 2:47). But why would a person even need to do this if Jesus' law does not apply to him?
If people are not subject to Jesus' law, what sin can they be guilty of, how can they be held accountable for becoming a Christian, and why should they even enter the church? The fact they are obligated to obey some commands, proves they are accountable to the whole law.
Note: It is true that certain specific laws regulate only people in certain circumstances, such as laws for women, men, elders, parents, children, etc. (In this sense the Lord's supper is only for those in the circumstance of having been cleansed by Jesus' blood.) If we are not in the circumstance described, then we cannot obey that law, but this is because we are not in the circumstance rather than because we are not subject to the law as a whole. Jesus said there are people who are eunuchs and therefore the law of divorce and remarriage would not affect them (Matt. 19:10-12). But that is the only exception He gave. People who are married are in the circumstance such that the law applies to them.
Note whom He addressed.
V2 - He was speaking to great multitudes.
V3,4 - His teaching on divorce was an answer to a question asked by Pharisees who were seeking to "try" Him. He addressed His answer "to them" (v4). Clearly, they were not His disciples but His enemies and opponents (disciples were later called Christians - Acts 11:26). (cf. Mk. 10:2; Lk. 16:14,15,18).
V5 - He quoted Gen. 2:24 saying "a man" should leave father and mother and cleave to his wife (cf. Mk. 10:7). We will soon see that this is universal in application. It includes all people everywhere.
V9 - "Whosoever" shall put away his wife and marry another commits adultery. NIV says "Anyone" who ... " Luke 16:18 in ASV and NASB says "Everyone that ... " (cf. Mark 10:11).
V10-12 - Jesus discussed the issue of to whom this teaching applied. He said there were exceptions to whom it did not apply - eunuchs! Hence, the only exceptions to Jesus' law of divorce and remarriage are unmarried people!
To those who say this is a "covenant" passage, I ask what "covenant" people it is limited to.
The "whosoever" cannot be just Jews under the Old Testament covenant since Jesus clearly admits that His teaching is different from that of Moses. It cannot be just Christians under the gospel since the Pharisees, to whom Jesus spoke this, were not disciples. Hence it cannot be limited to any "covenant" people. It must be a universal application to all people.
[If it be pointed out that Mark 10:10-12 says Jesus stated the teaching to the disciples in the house, I would point out that this is after He stated His general teaching on divorce. He had already made clear to His enemies that God's word was opposed to divorce. Hence, this does not help the case of those who believe Jesus' teaching against divorce does not apply to aliens.]
"Whosoever" (KJV), "Every one ... " (ASV, NASB), "Anyone" (NIV).
Clearly Jesus intended for His teaching about divorce and remarriage to be universal in application. There is nothing to imply He meant it only for His disciples. On the contrary the whole context shows that it applies to His enemies and non-disciples as well as to His disciples.
To whom did that law apply? This is Jesus' law and it is God's law. It is a broad as Jesus' authority and as God the Father's.
Further, this law was not a church law or church ordinance, but was originally given some 4000 years before the church began. How then can it be restricted only to people in the church?
This law was given to the first man and woman from whom all people descended. It must have been intended for the descendants of Adam and Eve, since it describes "a man" leaving father and mother (which Adam and Eve did not have). Hence, the instruction, as originally given, applied universally to all men.
But Jesus quoted the passage and said the same teaching is in effect today, and Paul also quoted it in Eph. 5:31. This principle is the basis of Jesus' teaching about divorce and remarriage. To whom does the principle apply?
The original principle applied to "a man." That expression must be just as broad in meaning today as it was when originally given. To whom did it apply then? Who is that "man"? All men, descendants of Adam and Eve. Since Jesus' divorce and remarriage teaching is based on that law, His teaching must apply to the same "man" - all men!
Further, God's marriage law is as broad in application as is human sexual reproduction. God's marriage law is the basis for limiting the sexual union to people who are married (one flesh). This law is used in 1 Cor. 6:16 to forbid sex outside marriage (cf. Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:2-5).
But, from the beginning, the command to reproduce was addressed to the people God made in His own image (Gen. 1:26-28), and that includes all people (Gen. 5:1-4; 9:6; etc.). Hence, anytime, anywhere people participate in the sexual act, they are bound by God's marriage law. It is not just for people in covenant relationship with God.
But this universal marriage law is the basis of Jesus' law about divorce and remarriage. It was later quoted in the New Testament (Eph. 5:31; 1 Cor. 6:16). If the original law was universal in application to all people, and if that law is the basis of Jesus' law of divorce and remarriage, it must have the same universal application.
It would not matter what non-Christians did regarding marriage or sexual conduct. Either God's marriage laws do apply to non-Christians or they do not. If the laws do not apply then it follows that:
* God does not recognize the marriages of non-Christians at all.
(Yet note Matt. 24:38f; John 4:16-18; Acts 24:24; Matt. 27:19).
[Would this mean that all people, when they become Christians, are unmarried in God's eyes and therefore must get married after baptism else their relationship would then become adulterous? See notes on 1 Cor. 7:14.]
* It does not matter what sexual conduct people outside Christ commit.
All laws regulating sexual conduct are based on the marriage law (Gen. 2:24; Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 6:16; 7:2-5). (We will later show that people outside Christ are held accountable for sexual conduct.)
It would furthermore follow that, when a person outside Christ has a sexual relationship, no matter whom he has it with or under what circumstances, it is not sin, for there is no sin where there is no law (Rom. 4:15). If aliens are not subject to the Jesus' divorce laws, it must be because they are not subject to God's marriage law, which in turn means they are free from all regulations regarding adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc.! We should stop preaching to aliens about their adultery, etc.!
* If the marriage law does not apply outside Christ, why would an unbeliever be required to provide for his wife or care for his children (1 Tim. 5:8)?
* It also follows that, if a person is considering becoming a Christian, but does not like his companion, he should get rid of her and marry the person he wants before he is baptized.
On the other hand, if God's marriage law does apply to those outside Christ, then God's laws against sexual misconduct do apply to them, and so does Jesus' teaching regarding divorce and remarriage, because it is based on God's marriage law. It is all or nothing.
[Note that this argument is valid no matter what means a person uses to get aliens subject to God's marriage law. If they say they are subject to the gospel, to the "moral law," to the "law on the heart," the "law of love," or whatever law they say, if they admit people outside Christ are subject to God's marriage law, then Jesus' teaching about divorce and remarriage applies too.]
We have seen that God's laws against sexual immorality are based on His marriage law. But that same law is the basis of Jesus' teaching against divorce and remarriage. Hence, the marriage law, the laws regulating sexual conduct, and the divorce law all apply to exactly the same people. In particular, divorce and remarriage (without Scriptural grounds) Jesus said was adultery, a particular form of sexual misconduct.
Hence, if we can find passages saying aliens outside Christ are subject to God's laws on sexual conduct, then it must be because they are subject to God's laws on marriage. It will follow that they are subject to His laws on divorce and remarriage, since all stand or fall together.
Note these passages:
There are fornicators in the world (in contrast to the church). Hence, people outside the church are subject to God's laws on sexual conduct.
The Corinthians had been fornicators, adulterers, etc., before they were washed and justified by Christ. God held these people accountable for obeying His sexual laws even when they had been outside the church. This includes adultery, and divorce and remarriage constitutes adultery.
Those who come into Christ should put off the conduct of the "old man" - i.e., the way they lived before they became Christians. This old life included fornication (v5), hence, God's sexual laws do apply to those outside Christ.
People who commit the various sins listed are practicing that which is contrary to the "gospel." Included in the list are numerous moral issues, thus showing that "moral" laws are included in the "gospel."
In particular, people who commit "fornication" are violating the gospel. But the gospel is to be preached to "every creature" in "all the world" (Mark 16:15,16; 2 Thess. 1:8,9). Hence, all people must obey the gospel, including its prohibitions against fornication.
One who will not provide for his own household is worse than an unbeliever. Yet if God's marriage laws do not apply to unbelievers, how can they be held accountable for their household?
All these passages clearly show that people outside the church are subject to God's laws regarding fornication and adultery. But unscriptural divorce and remarriage constitute "adultery."
Furthermore, if people are subject to God's sexual laws, this proves they are subject to His marriage law. And if people are subject to the marriage law, then they must be subject to Jesus' divorce and remarriage law, since it is also based on the marriage law.
God's laws regarding marriage (and therefore His laws regarding divorce and remarriage) apply to people outside the church just the same as they do to people in the church.
Some people believe that, if a person has divorced (not for fornication) and remarried, when he becomes a Christian, he may remain with his present companion. What does the Bible say?
This is true regardless of whether the relationship was entered before or after baptism.
It follows that the only way such a person can be a faithful Christian is to give up the husband-wife relationship, including sexual relations, with their present companion.
Malachi 2:14-16 - Marriage is a covenant relation which God witnesses and holds people accountable to honor. (Note Ecc. 5:4,5).
Hebrews 13:4 (1 Cor. 7:2-5) - The sexual union is lawful only with the one person with whom we have a valid marriage covenant. In any other case it is fornication.
Romans 7:2,3 (1 Cor. 7:39) - The marriage covenant commits a person to his/her companion for life. Anytime our companion is alive, if we have a marriage relationship (including the sexual union) with someone else, we are guilty of adultery (even if we are remarried according to civil law). Note that the first marriage commitment continues as long as the first companion is alive, not just until baptism.
Matthew 19:3-9 - God joins a man and woman in the marriage covenant, and man has no right to set it aside. If a man tries to set it aside, God still holds him to it, so his subsequent marriage is adulterous.
1 Corinthians 7:10,11,2-5 - A person should not divorce his/her companion. But what should one do if he is already divorced? Only two choices are available - remain unmarried or else be reconciled to our true companion.
What if we have already remarried - does that change the teaching? No, we still have only two choices if we are divorced, making no exception for the case in which one has remarried. If we can be reconciled with our lawful companion, fine. If not, we must remain unmarried. To stay with our unlawful companion would be fornication as shown in v2-5.
God is willing to forgive those who have unscripturally divorced and remarried. However, they must meet conditions of forgiveness, just as do others who are committing sin.
Acts 2:38 - Repent and be baptized for remission of sins.
Luke 24:47 - Repentance and remission of sins must be preached to all (cf. Mk. 16:16).
2 Peter 3:9 - God wants all to repent, not perish (cf. Lk. 13:3,5).
Acts 17:30 - God commands all men everywhere to repent.
Acts 8:22 - A child of God who sins must repent of wickedness and pray for forgiveness.
Matthew 21:28-32 - Repentance involves changing our minds and deciding to do God's will.
This is true regardless of what our sin may be. We must decide to quit stealing, lying, killing, etc. If we have been committing adultery in the form of an unscriptural marriage relationship, we must decide to quit the relationship, including quitting the sexual union.
We must cease the practice of sin and practice righteousness instead.
Matthew 21:28-32 - After repenting, to be approved the son had to do the will of the father. (cf. Prov. 6:31; 2 Pet. 2:20-22)
Matthew 3:2,8; Luke 3:8-14 - John preached repentance and required men to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.
Acts 26:20 - Paul also preached men must repent and do works worthy of repentance. What does this involve?
Romans 6:1-19,23 [read v1,2,11-15] - If by God's grace our sins are forgiven in baptism, does this mean we can continue to practice sin? God forbid! The purpose of conversion is so we can be freed from sin and become righteous. We must then practice righteousness, rather than letting sin reign in our lives. If we continue to practice sin, the wages of sin is death.
In particular, we must not continue in the sin described in the very next few verses in 7:2,3 - living in adultery with someone who is not the mate we are bound to.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - Prior to conversion, the Corinthians practiced sins including fornication and adultery. But they ceased these practices when they became washed and justified by Christ.
2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1 - We must not fellowship sin but separate and cleanse ourselves from it, if we are to be God's children. (This is also the true meaning of 2 Cor. 5:15,17).
Colossians 3:5-11 - Coming into Christ means we must put off the old man (cease to practice sin) and put on the new man by practicing righteousness. One of the sinful practices we must discontinue is fornication.
To continue in an unscriptural marriage relationship is to continue to practice adultery every time we have the sexual union. Repentance and faithfulness to God requires us to cease this practice.
Ezekiel 33:14-16 - To live and not die, the wicked man must turn from evil, restore what he took by robbery, and do what is right.
Proverbs 9:17 likens adultery to stealing. If repentance requires one to return money or property which he has taken but which does not belong to him, why is he not likewise required to give up a wife he has stolen but which does not belong to him? (See also Lev. 6:1-7; Num. 5:5-10; Ex. 22:1-15).
Luke 19:8 - Zaccheus restored four times the things he took wrongfully. Why must not a man likewise give up a wife taken wrongfully?
Acts 19:18,19 - When people repented of practicing magical arts, they burned their books of magic.
Philemon 10-19 - The slave Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon. When he repented and was converted, he had to return. He and Paul wanted to stay together, but repentance required him to fulfill his obligation to his master. Likewise, how can one keep a husband/wife that is bound to another?
Ezra 9 and 10 - Israelites were not permitted to take wives from surrounding nations, but many of them had done so. They had entered marriage relations they had no right to enter (9:1,2). To repent they had to make a covenant with God to separate from their wives (10:1-3,10-12), even though some of them had children by these wives (10:44). Those who would not give up their wives were separated from the people (10:8).
These things are written for our example and learning (1 Cor. 10:6,11; Rom. 15:4). If a person under the New Testament marries someone he has no right to marry, why wouldn't repentance likewise require separating from the unscriptural companion?
Matthew 14:3,4 - Herod had his brother Philip's wife, so John said it was not lawful for him to have her. If it was not lawful to have her, what would he have to do to repent? Quit having her! Give her up!
Note that the verse does not just say Herod was wrong to take her, but he was wrong to have her - continuing the relationship was wrong. Today if a person has a companion which it is not lawful for him to have because of an unscriptural divorce and remarriage, what would he have to do to be forgiven?
(See also Gen. 20:1-14; 1 Sam. 12:3)
* Suppose a man is living in polygamy and is converted, may he keep all his wives? He has a valid marriage covenant only with his first wife. His relationship with the others is adultery. Doesn't repentance require him to give up all his wives except the first one?
* Suppose a man living in a homosexual marriage is converted, may he continue the relationship? By whatever reasoning we would use to show he must leave, by the exact same reasoning we can show one must leave a companion whom he took as a result of unscriptural divorce and remarriage.
Most Christians can see that, if a Christian unscripturally divorces and remarries, in order to repent he must leave his second mate. But repentance and prayer obtains forgiveness for the Christian who sins, exactly like repentance and baptism brings forgiveness to an alien sinner. Both cases require repentance. If the non-member can be forgiven and keep his companion, why can't a member?
The fact is that repentance requires a member living in an unscriptural marriage to leave that companion. Since repentance means the same for a non-member as it does for a member, the non-member would also have to leave.
We have seen, even for people outside the church, that God recognizes the original marriage covenant as valid, and He holds people accountable if they violate it. This is why God considers divorce (not for fornication) and remarriage to be adultery.
Some people believe that baptism forgives previous sinful divorces and remarriages so that, after becoming a Christian, a person can remain with his current companion. Some offer 2 Cor. 5:17 as proof. This could be valid only if being forgiven invalidates or looses men from their original marriage contract and sanctifies their current marriage. Does it?
Consider some other examples of people living in sinful relationships.
Does conversion sanctify these relationships so people can continue in them?
(1) If a polygamist is converted, are all his multiple marriages sanctified so he can keep all his wives?
(2) If two men are living in a homosexual marriage, would conversion sanctify that relationship so they can continue in it? Or would conversion teach them to quit it?
Romans 7:2,3 says the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, and she is free to remarry only when her husband dies. The passage does not say she is bound to her husband as long as she is unconverted, and she is free to be in another marriage when she gets baptized.
Again, what repentance and baptism does for the person outside the church, repentance and prayer does the same for the child of God who sins. If forgiveness frees a non-Christian from his first marriage so he can continue in a subsequent marriage, why won't repentance and prayer do the same for a child of God who unscripturally divorces and remarries.
Consider an unscripturally remarried man. If he is baptized, folks say the second marriage can continue. But what if SHE is baptized, but he is not? Surely the same folks would say she may continue in the marriage. But on what grounds? Her sins are forgiven, but he committed the unscriptural divorce and remarriage. Does baptizing one person forgive the sins of another person? He is still living in adultery with her. How can it be adultery for him, but not for her?
We have proved that, unless one divorces for fornication, he continues bound to his first marriage covenant, so every act of sexual union in a subsequent marriage is adultery. The effect of the current argument is to say that, after baptism, the same people can continue in the same sinful relationship performing the same act that used to be sinful, but now it is all right! This cannot be since the passages previously studied show that, instead of allowing us to continue in sin, baptism teaches us to cease it.
Conversion does not release us from valid obligations we had before baptism, nor does it sanctify or justify continuing in relationships that were sinful before baptism. (Consider also Herod in Matt. 1 4:3,4.)
Does conversion release us from these obligations? Does 2 Cor. 5:17 mean all these "old things" are "passed away," so we have no obligation?
(1) Suppose a man is converted when still in his first marriage, does conversion dissolve that marriage so he is no longer obligated to his wife? Why is it that a person's first marriage commitment is dissolved at baptism only if he has unscripturally divorced and remarried?
(2) If a man owes a financial debt before baptism, does his conversion mean he is released from the debt so he no longer has to pay it?
(3) If a man is a slave before baptism, is he automatically freed from his master when he is converted? If so, why did Paul say Onesimus had to go back? Instead of being freed because he was converted, Onesimus has to go back because he was converted!
(4) If certain people are my relatives (parents, children, etc.) before baptism, does conversion relieve me of all my former obligations to these people?
(5) If I am a citizen of a country before baptism, does conversion change my citizenship and relieve me of my obligations to pay taxes, obey the law, etc.?
Clearly conversion does not relieve me from any of these obligations which I had before conversion because they are the result of legitimate relationships and obligations I had before baptism. On the contrary, true conversion would lead me to realize that I must fulfill these obligations. Why then should conversion release me from my lawful first marriage obligation in the case where I have unscripturally divorced and remarried?
Note the newness vs. oldness discussed in the context:
v15 - Whereas we had been living for ourselves (in sin), now we must live for Christ (in righteousness).
v18 - Whereas we had been alienated from God, now we are reconciled.
v19 - Whereas we had been guilty, now our trespasses are not reckoned to us.
The "things" which change from old to new are not the obligations that we used to have, and surely we are not now free to participate in practices that were once counted sinful. What changes is that we are no longer guilty of sin, we are no longer alienated from God, and we no longer continue to practice sin.
This passage teaches just the opposite of what some are teaching. It teaches converted people to remain in upright circumstances, not sinful ones, and the primary relationship being considered in this context is marriage! (v20,24).
(1) If one is physically circumcised (or uncircumcised), conversion does not require changing this physical circumstance. Why not? Because it is not sinful one way or the other (v17-19). Morally upright circumstances of life are not changed by conversion.
(2) If a slave is converted, his earthly relationship and obligation continues (though he is free spiritually) (v21-24).
(3) The application in context is to a married person who is converted. This does not free him so he can leave his marriage obligation or circumstance (v12-16).
But what does matter is obedience to God. A sinful circumstance must be changed at conversion as we have seen elsewhere. Hence, if one's marriage is not sinful, then that marriage continues at conversion. Baptism does not change it. But if a marriage is sinful, it must cease at baptism, as also taught in v10,11. (V10-24 discuss the same subject throughout. V10,11 give the general law, and vv. 12-24 give the application of it to a specific situation.)
What does baptism do to the obligations of the first marriage? Nothing, because it was not sinful but was morally upright. Baptism does not release proper and moral obligations, and it was the first marriage that was proper and moral.
What does baptism do to the second marriage? It is sinful, so it is dissolved, washed away. We must not continue it for it is part of the "old things" that are passed away and must become new!
Examination of this issue confirms what we previously learned. Conversion does not justify the continuation of an unscriptural marriage, but teaches it must cease!
We have already answered the following arguments that are sometimes offered to try to justify a couple staying in an unscriptural remarriage when they are baptized:
* Non-members are not subject to God's law.
* The sin is the act of divorcing and remarrying, not the relationship that follows.
* Conversion forgives the divorce and remarriage, so they can continue in their current marriage.
Consider some other arguments used to reach the same conclusion:
We are told that such cases must have existed in the first century. If separation is needed, the Bible would have mentioned it. Since the Bible does not mention separation, it must not be needed. But note:
God expects us to have our senses exercised to properly apply the principles to the specific case (Heb. 5:14). This is called "necessary inference."
Yet by applying the principles of God's word, we understand that these people too must cease the practices:
This includes: infant baptism; sprinkling/pouring for baptism; instrumental music in worship; a human head of the church; centralized church organizations; dancing, drug abuse, gambling, homosexual marriages; etc.
Since we have no passage expressly telling people to quit these practices, does that mean it is wrong for us to tell people they must quit?
This problem too must have existed in New Testament times. (It existed among the Jews in the Old Testament, and surely existed among the Gentiles converted in the New Testament.)
Are we wrong to tell such people they must give up their plural wives? Suppose you were teaching a Moslem, Mormon, or African tribesman who had several wives, what would you tell him?
May we tell him he must leave his unscripturally companion? If so, what passage expressly deals with this case and says he must separate? If we can tell him to separate though we have no express Scripture, why can't we do the same for a non-member in an unscriptural marriage?
We will cite examples below.
God's word does not itemize every case where this may occur. It teaches that it may be necessary, then it teaches the principles that show when it is necessary. God expects us to make the proper application instead of making excuses.
Read v12-17. It is argued that Matt. 19:9; 5:32; and 1 Cor. 7:10,11 apply only to Christians. But 1 Cor. 7:12-15 involves a non-Christian and says that, if a non-Christian leaves, the deserted companion can remarry. Hence, if a marriage of non-Christians breaks up, they may remarry and then stay in their remarriage when they are converted.
We have already proved that Matt. 19:9 applies to all people. Its teachings are universal because it is based on the original marriage law and because it is even addressed to non-disciples. 1 Cor. 7:15 does not contradict Matt. 19.
1 Corinthians 7:10,11 says it is addressed to the "married" in contrast to the "unmarried and widows" (v8). That includes married people in general, not just Christians. It teaches the same as Matt. 19:9, which we have proved applies to all.
Romans 7:2,3 - What about this passage? Do we set it aside too?
Note: Suppose it is true 1 Cor. 7:12-16 is the only passage that applies to the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian (Matt. 19:9; etc., do not apply). Then suppose a Christian is married to a non-Christian, the non-Christian commits fornication but does not want to leave the Christian (he is "content to dwell with her"). Since Matt. 19:9 and 5:32 do not apply, on what basis could the Christian divorce him? If the non-Christian refuses to leave, the Christian would have to continue to dwell with him!
Paul is answering a question asked by the Corinthians (vl) in which a "brother or sister" is married to an "unbeliever." V17-24 shows that the case involves a married couple one of whom becomes a Christian but the other does not. Should the believer divorce his companion or not?
He says not to divorce because the relation is not sinful and it may turn out your companion will later be converted (v12-14,16). But if the unbeliever chooses to leave, let him go (V15).
Note that V16 says the "unbeliever" is unsaved, in contrast to a "brother or sister" (a child of God, a member of God's family, a saved person - Gal. 3:26f; 1 Pet. 1:22; etc.).
It abuses the passage to apply it to any case other than an unbeliever leaving a member of the church. It cannot be applied to unbelievers who leave unbelievers (regardless of whether or not they later are converted). The subject of a marriage of two unbelievers is not even considered here.
Further, to apply this to cases of desertion in general (as some people do) would eliminate Matt. 19:9 from ever applying in any case. It clearly says these are cases where one who is put away may not remarry.
Note the arguments we are examining are self-contradictory. First, it is said that an unbeliever may divorce and remarry, be converted, and then stay in the remarriage, because God forgives them at baptism. Then they use 1 Cor. 7:15 to justify the second marriage. But the deserted party in 1 Cor. 7:15 is not guilty of sin at all! Which is it? Is the remarriage not a sin at all, or is it a sin which has been forgiven?
"Under bondage" in 1 Cor. 7:15 does not mean the same as "bound" in marriage as in 7:39,27; Rom. 7:2,3; etc. The words sound similar but the ideas are different both in English and even more so in Greek. Why don't the translators say simply that a person "is (not) bound...," as they say in the other passages? Because the meaning is different.
"Under bondage" (Greek DOULOO) refers to being in slavery [note Acts 7:6; 2 Pet. 2:19]. It is never used in any Scripture to refer to marriage. Marriage is not slavery, and being married does not equal being "under bondage" (enslaved). [The word is also used for slavery to sin - Gal. 4:3; Tit. 2:3 - and slavery to God - Rom. 6:18,22 - and obligation to teach others - 1 Cor. 9:19.]
"Bound" (Greek DEO) is used for marriage (1 Cor. 7:39,27; Rom. 7:2,3) and refers to the mutual commitment or obligation that results from a covenant or contract. We are bound by the terms of the covenant which we chose to enter into. This is not "slavery." (cf. "join" - SUNZEUGNUMI - Matt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9).
If Paul meant to refer to marriage in v15, why did he not use the same word that he used in v27,39 and Rom. 7:2,3? Why use a different word which no New Testament writer ever used for marriage? Why use a word which refers to slavery rather than to a covenant relationship? The only sensible answer is that v15 does not mean the believer is free to remarry.
* To conclude that a child of God may remarry simply because his/her unbelieving companion departs, would contradict the immediate context of 7:10,11 and also Matt. 19:9; 5:31f; Rom. 7:2,3; etc. These teach one can remarry only if his companion is put away for committing fornication. Otherwise, they must reconcile or remain unmarried.
* If 1 Cor. 7:15 means I can remarry if my unbelieving companion leaves, but I cannot if my believing companion leaves, then it is to my advantage to marry an unbeliever! Why should I be allowed to remarry if my unbelieving companion leaves, but if she is a believer and leaves then I cannot remarry? Such an idea penalizes one for being married to a believer!
* God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34,35; Rom. 2:6-11). God does not have an easy set of laws when an unbeliever is involved and a hard set of laws when a believer is involved.
* Paul is really saying that this case is not an exception to the rule of 7:10,11. The Corinthians apparently asked him about the mixed marriage case, so he began by laying down the general rule: do not divorce your companion (v10,11). Then he applied the rule to mixed marriages, saying you should not leave in this case either, just like he said for the general case. But if your companion leaves, let them go.
Rather than assuming without proof that one can remarry, we should apply the rule Paul already stated and conclude you must remain unmarried or else be reconciled.
"Not under bondage" really simply explains "let him depart" (v15) and is the opposite of "dwelling with" them (v12,13). Stay with your companion and fulfill your marital obligations if he/she is satisfied. But if your mate is so bitter against your service to Christ that he cannot stand to be around you, God does not require you to cling to them refusing to let them go. And especially, do not compromise your service to God to get them to stay. This would be a form of slavery in which God does not require his people to be enslaved.
Nothing in the context implies the Christian may remarry. The subject of remarriage is not discussed in v12-24. V10,11 has already settled the issue of remarriage by forbidding it. We would need clear proof in order to reach a conclusion that constituted an exception to v10,11. But in fact the conclusion harmonizes with v10,11 and with Matt. 19:9; it does not contradict.
We are told that God would not require the break up of a marriage, especially if there are children. It isn't fair. In no other area of service to God are such extreme sacrifices required. God wants His people to be joyful, but no one could be joyful under such circumstances, etc.
Note: This argument is the real crux of the issue, though most people do not admit it. The reason people object to the conclusions we have taught from God's word is, not that they have found a passage which disproves it, but that they think it is too hard on them or their loved ones to do what God says, so they are looking for excuses. The wish is the parent of the doctrine!
Even innocent people often face severe problems in serving God.
* Jesus, His apostles, Old Testament prophets, and first century Christians often suffered hardship, even though they were righteous (2 Cor. 11:23ff; Heb. chap. 11; 1 Pet. 2:20ff; etc.). Should they have reasoned that "It is not fair;" standing for truth was leading to hardship and God wanted them to have joy, so they should quit standing for it?
* Suppose a preacher preaches truth and is killed for it. He and his family suffer greatly as a result. Does this prove we are not required to stand for the truth if death might result?
* If a man is imprisoned or disabled for life, his family suffers loss of companionship, financial support, sexual fulfillment, etc. Would this justify the wife in getting a divorce and remarrying because staying married (especially caring for a disabled man) is too hard and she has no joy, etc.?
* Suppose a member of the church leaves his wife, refuses to live with her and meet her needs, but he never commits fornication. Is it "too hard" to believe that woman must live without her husband? May she divorce and remarry?
The person who unscripturally divorces and remarries is not the only person who suffers greatly in this life. He is not the only person who must go through life without a spouse.
If a person must leave an unscriptural marriage, in what way is he any worse off than these cases? And so far we have described people who suffer though they are innocent of sin; but the person who unscripturally remarried is guilty of adultery! If faithfulness requires these innocent people to suffer, then surely separation from an unscriptural marriage would be no harder a requirement.
People argue that leaving an unscriptural marriage would be the "only sin with such terrible consequences." They ask if we think it is the "unforgivable sin."
* Yet we already showed that even innocent people sometimes suffer similar consequences. Why should a guilty person suffer less than an innocent person?
* An escaped slave must return to his master (Book of Philem.). Suppose the master might punish him for having run away? Would that justify him in not returning? (cf. 1 Pet. 2:18)
* Suppose a person commits murder and repents, but is imprisoned for life. He and his family suffer even though God forgave him. Would that justify him in trying to escape or otherwise disobeying the law?
* Suppose a polygamist or a homosexual couple repents. In some cases there are even children involved. Can they stay together because separating would be too hard, it would remove the joy from their lives, etc.?
* Suppose a church member divorces unscripturally, remarries, has children, then wants to repent. Must he separate from his mate? Is this any easier for him than for one not a member? If he must separate in spite of the hardship, why not a non-member who is converted?
* Suppose a person is guilty of fornication and his mate divorces him for it. We will see that the Bible teaches he must remain unmarried. Shall we argue that he too can remarry because being single is too hard?
None of the above sins are "unforgivable," but all of them have serious consequences and require sacrifices as great as that of the person who has unscripturally remarried.
Truly "the way of the transgressor is hard" - Prov. 13:15.
Ezra 9 and 10 - Israelites had to separate from wives they had no right to, and in some cases there were children (cf. Herod in Matt. 14:3,4).
1 Corinthians 7:15 - Sometimes an unbelieving companion cannot stand living with a Christian, so he leaves. The Christian is to let him go, but must not remarry nor compromise the truth to keep their spouse. Hence, a person loses his/her companion because he is standing for the truth.
Luke 14:26 - One must love his wife, children, parents, etc., less than he does Christ, or he is not worthy of Christ (cf. Matt. 10:37). We often teach that Christians must be willing to give up our relations to dear loved ones, if necessary to please God.
But now we come to a specific case where God's word requires this to be done, and suddenly the passage just can't mean that because it is too hard! Do we believe the passage, or are we looking for excuses?
Luke 18:28-30 - Those who leave wife, children, parents, etc., if necessary to please God, will be blessed in this life and will have eternal life. Yet we are told God would never require such a thing because it causes too much unhappiness!
The idea that God would never require people to give up spouse and/or children is simply a lie! If the case we are considering is not such a case, then what would be such a case? And if this case is "too hard," then in what case would it be done?
The joy and peace Christians have is spiritual, being based on forgiveness, a right relation with God, and hope of eternal life. We do not have assurance of peaceful, joyous relations with other people in this life. Instead our earthly relations will often be difficult and trying.
If we can set aside God's word in this case because obedience makes us "unhappy," then we can set aside God's law about anything! Instead of God's word being the standard for determining right and wrong, we would be guided by our own subjective feelings of joy or unhappiness.
Paul is discussing circumstances that are "nothing" either way (v19), like circumcision (v18,19) and slavery (v21-23).
The marriage relationships being discussed in context are not sinful, but are "sanctified" (v14). That is expressly stated to be why they could remain in it.
Where does the passage teach people to stay in marriages that are not sanctified? God says an unscriptural remarriage is "adultery." Does that sound like He has "sanctified" it?
Paul is not justifying staying in a relationship that is sinful, but only in situations that are in harmony with God's commands.
Consider a few "states" ("callings"): prostitute, alcoholic, drug addict, whiskey manufacturer, thief, hired killer, Mafia member, polygamist, couple living together but not married, homosexual marriage. May people remain in these callings and be saved?
In what state is he called? Is this state in keeping with God's commands, so he can stay in it, or is his state in violation of God's commands so he must cease it?
* He is bond by a valid marriage covenant to his first companion. Is this calling sinful? No, it was righteous. Therefore, 1 Cor. 7:17-24- says he must abide in it - conversion does not free him from that bond.
* But he is married to another woman and living with her. In this relation, is he "keeping the commands of God"? No, it is adultery because he is still bound to the first wife.
What must this man do then? Abide in his first marriage covenant and leave his second marriage. Like all proof texts we have examined, this one requires the very thing we have been advocating and contradicts those who use it to teach otherwise.
Divine law opposes divorce and remarriage. One can do it only if he is an exception to God's law.
The innocent party is a stated exception and may therefore divorce and remarry. What passage allows the one who is put away for fornication to remarry? What right do we have making exceptions when God did not make them?
The reason God forbids divorce and remarriage is that He holds people responsible to fulfill their marriage covenant (cf. Rom. 7:2,3; Mal. 2:14-16; etc.). Can you name any Bible case in which a person has a Divine obligation to fulfill certain responsibilities, but he is released from this obligation because of his own sin?
The passage clearly teaches that if a person is put away when he is not guilty, he may not remarry. If the fornicator may remarry, he is better off being a fornicator than being innocent!
Justice is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23). What kind of justice makes one who is guilty better off than one who is innocent? Is this not rewarding sin?
If the guilty party is free to remarry, would this just be true for non-members who then get baptized? Why not also members who commit fornication, are divorced, then repent?
Suppose we have two couples in the church: Bill and Sue; Tom and Jane. Sue commits adultery with Tom. Bill Scripturally divorces Sue, and Jane Scripturally divorces Tom. Bill and Jane are free to remarry because they were innocent, so they marry one another. If put-away fornicators are free to remarry, all Sue and Tom must do is to repent of their adultery, and they are then free to marry one another! And the church must remain in fellowship with all four of them!
They say that we are teaching that second marriages are adultery because the divorced person is still bound to his first companion. But if an innocent person can put away a fornicator and then remarry, then the first bond must be broken. If so the fornicator is not bound either, so he can remarry too. To deny this is to say that the innocent party, who put away the fornicator and remarried, is bound to two people with God's approval.
But God determines whom He holds to their marriage vows and whom He releases. Both people made the first marriage covenant. The sin of the fornicator is of such nature that God releases the innocent party from the obligation he entered. But God can still hold the guilty party committed to keep his promise to have the sexual union with no one but his first spouse.
In this case, God obligates the guilty party to keep his promise but frees the innocent party from his. Note that it is possible for one person to be bound by the terms of a covenant, even after other parties have been freed from it.
The fornicator has forfeited the right to have a lawful and scriptural wife. He no longer has a claim on her as he would have if he had remained pure. But if, because of his sin, he has no claim to his first companion, by what means could we reach the conclusion that he has the right to such a claim on some other woman? Apparently he has lost the right to have that covenant with any woman.
The question of spousal abuse is just one of many terrible situations people may find themselves in when they have a bad marriage. Others that come to mind are: spouse who is a drunkard, gambler, spends family funds selfishly, thief or other criminal, sent to prison for crime, etc.
Or the problems may come from situations which are not the fault of either spouse. This could include a spouse who becomes an invalid from accident or disease, spouse who is imprisoned for years or must leave town for years to flee religious persecution or for preaching the truth (as in Bible examples), etc.
All these, like spousal abuse, are terrible situations. But I find no Scripture that justifies divorce in any of these cases. In the case of spousal abuse, there may be some things a Christian could do about the situation, but divorce is not one of them.
Possibilities might include: (1) Appeal to legal authorities for protection. This may even include an injunction that the abuser must leave the spouse alone completely for a period of time. Or it may lead to a jail term for the abuser.
(2) So far as I can tell, a Christian is always free to flee a situation that endangers his/her physical life or safety. Christians often fled to escape persecution. Most certainly, if there are children who are in danger, the Christian must act to protect the children.
But the main point is that the action taken must recognize that the marriage bond continues and that neither party has the right to end the marriage or to remarry. Divorce is not a Scriptural option.
(C) Copyright 1999, David E.
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