Monday, August 28, 2017

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament, Part IX: The Contrary Nature of Divorce to Forgiveness

It is no mere coincidence that Matthew places Christ's teaching about divorce in Chapter 19 immediately after His teaching concerning forgiveness/restoration in Chapter 18. Of course, the chapter divisions are not originally there, so the one flows even more smoothly into the other. This likely means that he wants to place the subject of divorce and remarriage in the light of Christ's teaching concerning living out the law of love and forgiveness.

Some understanding of the nature of forgiveness is necessary to understand its contrary nature to divorce and the marrying of another.

The forgiveness to which Christians are called is to mimic the forgiveness they have received from God. This is why Christ links their forgiving one another to God's forgiveness of them.

There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to forgiveness in our culture, but the essential idea in Matthew, as well as the rest of the New Testament, is that the offense is mercifully removed so that there is no penalty in one's relationship with another. If there is a penalty that remains, especially the breaking of the relationship, then forgiveness, as God forgives, has not been granted.

Forgiveness itself, then, is a restoration of the relationship that was broken by the offense. As God forgives us, He does not break the relationship and still argue that He forgives us. These are contrary to one another, as the offense that causes one to penalize the offender by breaking the relationship would remain.

As one can see, this has little to do with how the two parties feel about one another, and everything to do with their actions toward one another in terms of their relationship. Breaking the relationship because of an offense, but then saying that one has no hard feelings on the matter, is to remain in a state of unforgiveness, and to be guilty of the same crime of which the unforgiving servant is guilty in the parable that illustrates Christ's teaching on the subject.

God forgives and forgets. God does not hold any sins against us by turning away or breaking His relationship with us. God restores us to our relationship with Him as though the offense was never committed. This is because the offense has been fully rectified by Jesus Christ, our federal head, upon the cross. The sin has been paid for. Hence, forgiveness/restoration is possible, as justice has been served.

But the one who will not reconcile refuses to forgive, regardless of the vocabulary they choose to employ. If the exact relationship is not restored, then the offender has not been forgiven, as he or she is paying for the crime by suffering the loss of the relationship. If one is paying for the offense, then the one offended, requiring payment be made, is rejecting the sufficiency of Christ's payment, and even ignoring it. To not restore a believer to the same relationship one had with him or her before the offense is to deny the gospel and reject the sacrifice of Christ as a full payment for the sins of all believers.

The implications this has for the divorce and remarriage question, specifically here for two believers, is that if one or both spouses refuse to reconcile, they are denying the gospel and are rejecting Christ. This is why Christ continually warns in Matthew, and again at the end of the parable: "And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to youif each of you does not forgive your  brother  from your heart.” This echoes the previous statement that Matthew alone highlights after the Lord's Prayer in Chapter 6, For if you forgive others their sinsyour heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive othersyour Father will not forgive you your sins." (vv. 14-15).

The reason for this is due to the fact that if one rejects the sufficiency of Christ's payment for the sins of another, he or she is rejecting Christ's sufficiency for payment for his or her own sin. It is a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and only the gospel can restore one to God--a gospel that has now been rejected when dealing with others.

Hence, whether a Christian restores his or her relationship with another Christian is not an option. If he or she does not, he or she is rejecting the gospel and must be rebuked and placed under discipline for such a serious blasphemy against Christ and His work.

To know that Christ has paid for the offense of a spouse, regardless of what that offense might be, and that Christ has fully paid for that offense, and yet, still want a pound of flesh by breaking the relationship with him or her is to spit on Christ upon the cross. Such things should never been done, especially by a Christian claiming to love Christ.

What this means is that Matthew would not be arguing that it is ever acceptable for two Christians to divorce and marry another. It is completely contrary to the Christian message concerning the gospel itself. Those who preach and teach that it is acceptable are preaching and teaching against the gospel of Christ. Those confessions that allow for it are confessions of antichrist in that they reject Christ and His work as applied to this issue.

Hence, a divorce and/or remarriage only ever takes place when one or both of the parties is in the sin of apostasy. The fact that the modern church has tolerated such a thing, and even allowed for it is a testimony to its treason against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The Christian restores totally, especially his or her relationship with his or her spouse, because Christ has restored him or her totally. 

If one is asking the question as to whether it is ever acceptable for two Christians to divorce, one can find the answer in the New Testament's teaching concerning forgiveness before anyone ever gets to the divorce passages, and that answer is unequivocally, "No."

The one who does not take care of his family financially is said to be worse than an unbeliever. How much more one who completely abandons them because he rejects Christ's work on the cross as a full payment for crimes committed by his spouse?

However, this Matthew only deals with two believers here, as Christ's sacrifice does not cover unbelievers, so their sins are still on them. How one should deal with unbelieving spouses is not addressed specifically by the Lord, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7, which is why Paul addresses it there. We'll discuss that in another post, but next time I wish to pursue this further by looking at the Pauline teaching that Christian marriage is a picture of Christ and His Church.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament, Part VIII: Divorce/Abandonment and the One Flesh Union

When Jesus gives the basis for His argument to the Pharisees in the Synoptics, He states that the man and the woman have become one flesh, and in fact, have been joined together into one flesh by God Himself. This one flesh union is what constitutes marriage. This union is not to be separated in the eyes of men, referring to divorce.

What one must believe, however, is that either abandonment in marriage, or certainly a divorce/abandonment ending the marriage, would actually break the one flesh union, so that the parties are now free to marry other people.

If the one flesh union is still intact after abandonment during marriage or in the act of getting a divorce (the words for divorce and abandonment/leaving, etc. are the same words), then to marry another person is to commit adultery, whether one has secured a divorce from men or not.

The texts actually help us in determining whether the one flesh union is broken by abandonment/divorce. In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus states:

Ἐρρέθη δέ· ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον. ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ, μοιχᾶται.

You have heard, "Whoever would divorce his wife, let him give her a notice of abandonment." But I say to you that anyone who abandons his wife, except in the case of an illegitimate union, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries an abandoned woman commits adultery.

Notice two things here. Abandonment precedes the marriage to another. Yet, this did not break the one flesh union, and therefore, the woman is viewed as committing adultery. Likewise, a man who marries a woman who has been abandoned commits adultery. If the one flesh union is broken by abandonment/divorce, neither party would be guilty of adultery, as they would be no longer tied to their previous spouse. However, Jesus says that they are guilty of it, indicating that the one flesh union is still in force.

Likewise, in Matthew 19:3-9, the same logic plays out due to the one flesh union that God has created between the couple.

Καὶ προσῆλθον αὐτῷ Φαρισαῖοι πειράζοντες αὐτὸν καὶ λέγοντες· εἰ ἔξεστιν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀπολῦσαι τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ κατὰ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν;
ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ὅτι ὁ κτίσας ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς;
καὶ εἶπεν· ἕνεκα τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ κολληθήσεται τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.
ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ σὰρξ μία. ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.
Λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· τί οὖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο δοῦναι βιβλίον ἀποστασίου καὶ ἀπολῦσαι [αὐτήν];
λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Μωϋσῆς πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἐπέτρεψεν ὑμῖν ἀπολῦσαι τὰς γυναῖκας ὑμῶν, ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς δὲ οὐ γέγονεν οὕτως.
λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται.

And the Pharisees came to Him, testing Him and saying whether it is permitted for a man to divorce/abandon his wife for any reason. But answering, He said, "Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female? And He said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife; and the two will become one flesh'." Therefore, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, that which God has joined together no human is to separate/grant a divorce. 
They said to Him, "Why, then, did Moses command to give a certificate of abandonment and to divorce [her]?"
He said to them, "Because Moses, in the face of your rebellion, permitted you to abandon your wives, but from the beginning, it was not meant to be like this. Now, I say to you that whoever abandons his wife, not concerning an illegitimate union, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Mark, from whom Matthew is drawing, is even clearer.

Καὶ προσελθόντες Φαρισαῖοι ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν εἰ ἔξεστιν ἀνδρὶ γυναῖκα ἀπολῦσαι, πειράζοντες αὐτόν.
ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· τί ὑμῖν ἐνετείλατο Μωϋσῆς;
οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· ἐπέτρεψεν Μωϋσῆς βιβλίον ἀποστασίου γράψαι καὶ ἀπολῦσαι.
ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν τὴν ἐντολὴν ταύτην.
ἀπὸ δὲ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς·
ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα [καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ],
καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν· ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ μία σάρξ.
ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.
Καὶ εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν πάλιν οἱ μαθηταὶ περὶ τούτου ἐπηρώτων αὐτόν.
καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται ἐπ᾽ αὐτήν·
καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλον μοιχᾶται.

And the Pharisees were coming, asking Him whether it was acceptable for a husband to divorce/abandon a wife, testing Him.  
But answering, He said to them, "What did Moses command you?"
And they said, "Moses permitted a certificate of divorce to be written and to divorce/abandon."
And Jesus said, "In light of your rebellion he wrote this commandment to you; but from the beginning of creation He made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother [and cling to his wife] and the two will turn into one flesh. Hence, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together no human is to separate. 
And going up into the house, the disciples questioned Him concerning this. 
And He said to them, "Whoever divorces/abandons his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she divorces/abandons her husband [and] marries another man, she commits adultery.

Again, we see that abandonment/divorce precedes the adultery, and it is an adultery ἐπ᾽ αὐτήν "against her." Likewise, she commits adultery by divorcing and marrying another.

Luke 16:18 states:

 Πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμῶν ἑτέραν μοιχεύει, καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς γαμῶν μοιχεύει.

Anyone who divorces/abandons his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the one who marries an abandoned/divorced woman commits adultery.

How exactly would a man be committing adultery by marrying a divorced woman if the one flesh union is broken by abandonment, especially an official abandonment in divorce? If she is no longer tied by that union to a husband, how is the third party committing adultery? The union should be broken, but Jesus says that it isn't.

Hence, this is why Paul states that if a woman is married to another man while her husband is living, she is an adulteress, and why she is free to marry if her husband dies.

Hence, the one flesh union that God has joined together, and commanded that no human is to separate, is in full force until one of the partners dies. This means that remarriage to another person is adultery if the previous spouse still lives, and that divorce/abandonment in no way breaks that union.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament Part VII: Why the Shammaites and Jesus Would Both Be Wrong for Taking the ‘ervat dābār in Deuteronomy 24 as Adultery

One of the major problems in seeing Jesus as siding with the school of Shammai is that the school of Shammai was clearly wrong about their interpretation of the ‘ervat dābār in Deuteronomy. 

This is made clear because the laws that deal with discovering that one's wife is an adulteress, either on one's wedding night or thereafter, command, not that she be divorced, but that she be put to death for it (Deut 22:13-24). Notice that if he cannot prove her adultery, he must remain married to her and is explicitly prohibited from divorcing her. Hence, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 cannot be talking about adultery. 

This means that the Shammaitic school was wrong, and if Jesus joined them in their interpretation He would have also been wrong.

The Hillelite understanding of the ‘ervat dābār was likely closer to the original meaning, but not the original intent. The original meaning likely referred to the idea that the man did not find the woman attractive once he saw her naked. 

This law, as many of the laws in Deuteronomy is a case law. The case that is found in the protasis is not expressing the moral will of God, but a case of someone usually doing the opposite of God's will. It is the clause of the criminal or the oppressor. The apodosis is the clause of the victim. This is the moral will of God expressed as to what the law should do for a victim who has suffered some loss. The law was never meant to convey the idea that God's moral will permits divorce anymore than the laws describing cases of rape, the killing of one's sons, servants, or oxen somehow convey God's moral will that these are OK too.

In other words, they were asking the wrong question of the text. The text should not have been read in terms of what is technically permissible; but what is the good and loving thing to do for the victimized woman in a situation where a man has abandoned his wife.

Furthermore, because they read it this way, they were reading the clauses,  "and he draws up a divorce document, gives it to her, and evicts her from his house . . ." as part of the apodosis, describing what a man should do, rather than as part of the protasis that explains the injustice being done. It can be read either way, but the waw's are not disjunctive, and since they describe the actions of the man against the victim, they should likely be read as part of the protasis.

What this means is that the law is not commanding the man to give her a divorce if he doesn't like something about her. Instead, it is only implying that the only prohibition thus far in God's law for one who divorces his wife is that he is not allowed to remarry her once she is joined to someone else. 

This also means that Jesus is not contradicting this law, but adding that the injustice it describes in its protasis should not be done, and that Moses permitted/gave the commandment that he did, a commandment that did not prohibit divorce altogether, because of their stubbornness. However, Jesus, who is now filling up the law, calls His disciples to love more fully.

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament Part VI: The Hillel/Shammai Debate and Its Implication for What Jesus Says

One of the important tasks of exegesis is to identify the ideas in conflict or continuity with which a text is interacting. A preliminary question can be asked of the Matthean texts such as, "What is Matthew wanting to convey by communicating the way that he does to people who may hold a particular idea that he either wants to support or reject?"

Since those asking Jesus this question are Pharisees who are wanting to test Him, as to what position He holds (19:3), we can ask the question, "To what debate about the issue are the Pharisees referring?"

Many scholars have noted the debate among the two major schools of thought on the subject of divorce and remarriage between Shammai and Hillel. The first was that of Hillel, who held that the ‘ervat dābār “an issue with [her] nakedness,” in Deuteronomy 24, for which one could divorce his wife, was any unpleasing thing about her, including the burning of one’s food. The other was the school of Shammai, which was a far more rigid school of thought that saw the “issue with [her] nakedness” through the lens of the prophets, like Jeremiah, where God is said to have divorced his people because of their adulteries. Hence, the school concluded that adultery was the only legal cause for divorce and remarriage.

It is important to understand that, despite the claims of some, the vast majority of Pharisees in Jesus’ day were of the school of Shammai, and the ones who are interacting with Jesus in order to trap Him are all likely of the Shammaitic school. This can be concluded for numerous reasons.

First, in the Book of Acts, Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, attempts to urge the more violent Shammaitic school that they should not harm the apostles. The Hillel tradition was a non-violent tradition that believed God would take care of their enemies and that, as long as they were allowed to study the Torah, no violent action should be taken against foes. Those of the school of Shammai, however, were much more given to the view that the Jews should take violent action against their enemies. This is seen in much of the violent response to Jesus throughout His ministry, as well as the response of the Pharisees to the apostles in the Book of Acts, including the actions of Saul of Tarsus before his conversion. Even with Gamaliel giving his advice to the majority and persuading them not to kill the disciples, they still beat them.

Second to this, even though Gamaliel is of the school of Hillel, and Paul studies under him, scholars have noted that Paul clearly holds to the school of Shammai before his conversion. As just mentioned, he violently goes on a crusade against the preaching of the apostles likely due to their claim that the high priest had betrayed and killed the Messiah (Acts 2-3). It is likely to suggest that the school of Shammai was so much more in the majority that Saul was persuaded by the larger school even though his teacher was a Hillelite.

Finally, those within the school of Hillel were open to Hellenism and working with the Romans. They were largely pacificists when it came to Rome; but the school of Shammai was not. We see the true influence of this school as the majority in the fact that it eventually led the Jews into a revolt sanctioned by the majority of the Pharisees. In fact, it was the devastation of Jerusalem that later led Jews to switch to the school of Hillel as the dominant school, simply because they blamed the overly strict views of the school of Shammai as leading to the destruction of the city and the massacre of many Jews.

Many scholars have mistakenly thought that because the Mishna and later Judaism has tendencies toward the Hillelite school of thought, or at least is more open to it as a viable option, that this means the Pharisees were more of that type of thinking. However, the Mishna and later Judaism is evidence of a switch that took place due to a disdain for the more rigid Shammaitic school of thought that brought Judaism into conflict with the Romans and brought the city to its ruin. Hence, the evidence is more clear that the Pharisees, before A.D. 70, largely held to the ideas of Shammaitic school. Josephus, a representative of the Pharsaic majority before A.D. 70, is also of the Shammaitic school (Finkelsten 1938).

Why is this important? First, it is important to note that if Jesus was saying what the majority opinion stated, there really should be no shock at all over His position. Second, the fact that both of these are positions are held by various rabbis in the culture with which both the Pharisees and likely the disciples would be familiar, there should also be no shock in what Jesus says.
However, the response of both the Pharisees and the disciples indicate that Jesus is not confirming one of their common opinions, but rather is stricter than both.

First of all, the Pharisees respond to Jesus, not by debating the nature of the ‘ervat dābār in Deuteronomy 24, as one would expect if Jesus was merely giving them an alternate cause for divorcing one’s legitimate spouse and marrying another. Instead, their response is not to debate the meaning of the passage, but to bring up the passage’s existence in the first place. They respond by stating that Moses permitted them to get a divorce, finding themselves now in the position of needing to give an apologetic for why divorce and remarriage is permissible at all.
Jesus responds that this command/permission was only due to their stubbornness, not because divorce is a morally legitimate action. If the existence of the command is due to rebellion, then one must conclude that there is no viable reason for the command for those who want to follow God’s ultimate will for marriage.

This can only mean that Jesus’ statement was implying that a divorce was never to take place, and if it did, and one marries another, the divorced person is actually committing adultery. Hence, His statement “that which God has joined together, no man is to separate” is an absolute claim that challenges the entire debate over reasons for divorce.

Second to this, the reaction of the disciples makes no sense if Jesus gives an out from a legitimate marriage. They state that if a couple is like this, i.e., inclined to get a divorce, it is better not to marry at all, since one can steer clear of the sin of adultery altogether by avoiding the institution in such situations.

Jesus’ further response is not to negate what the disciples conclude, but to affirm it by saying that not everyone can accept it, but that there are those who remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of God.

None of these responses make sense if Jesus is simply saying that one can get a divorce in the case of adultery, since that is a commonly held view, and indeed, the most commonly held view by the people to whom Jesus is speaking. 

Instead, it is clear from their rebuttal that Jesus has prohibited any divorce and remarriage, and hence, the debate shifts from the meaning of the ‘ervat dābār clause in Deuteronomy 24 to the fact that Moses permitted/gave commandment that they could get a divorce. Jesus gives the command that no man is to separate what God has joined together, and states that the previous allowance was not in continuity with what God had said in Genesis, but rather a concession due to their stubborness. This all implies, therefore, that Matthew is not negating the earlier teaching of the New Testament, but is instead affirming it. Hence, the porneia exception clause cannot be talking about the dissolution of a legitimate marriage, since he would then just be presenting Jesus as agreeing with the Shammaitic Pharisees. Instead, he negates this idea, which is likely an idea popping up in the church among the antinomians, that divorce and remarriage is something that may characterize a true disciple of Jesus. The righteousness of the Pharisees, according to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, is not the righteousness Jesus' followers are to pursue. Instead, he calls them to a full understanding of the law as love toward God and one another, and abandoning one's partner, which is to leave a relationship broken rather than restored, is not a part of that picture.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament V: The Romans Analogy

The next installment in our study of divorce and remarriage in the New Testament brings us to Paul’s analogy in Romans 7:1-6. The passage reads as follows:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?
For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were [aroused] by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Now, again, it must be noted that Paul is not addressing the issue of divorce here. His point is to use the concept of divorce as an analogy. If we have died, the law no longer has jurisdiction over us. That’s his point.

However, if what he says in the analogy is not true, then his point falls apart. So let’s look at what the analogy actually says.

Paul argues that the law binds (deō again) a wife to her husband while he lives. By “law,” one must ask, “To what law does Paul refer?” I would argue that he is referring to Genesis 2, since the law nowhere else binds the married woman until death. The word “law” many times refers to the entire Pentateuch and therefore can refer to the Book of Genesis. Paul also uses Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Mark quite a bit, so he is likely interpreting Genesis through the lens of what Jesus stated in Mark 10:6-12. Hence, he is likely referring to the “one flesh” union that is interpreted by Christ to be binding for life. He cannot be referring to Graeco-Roman law, as it is not binding to death, nor is there any other law in the OT that binds a man and a woman together for life. He could be referring to law in a loose sense of the oral law, but even then, there are numerous disagreements in the oral law, and the most common views that hold to an exception of adultery, or various other lesser exceptions, would break the analogy apart. Hence, it must be that he is referring to the law of Genesis 2, reflecting but not limited to the adultery laws in the Mosaic law, through the grid of Jesus’ interpretation and subsequent command, “What God has joined together, no man is to separate.” This is the same law that is considered by Paul to be “good” (v. 12, 17), just, holy, and spiritual (v. 14). And the fact that this particular law is read through the grid of Jesus’ teaching makes it something the believer ought to seek to glorify God in love for Him, his or her spouse, and others.

So the law is actually Scripture (Genesis read through the Gospel of Mark). Paul is arguing that the Scripture argues this way, not just some customary law. So what does the Scripture say about someone who is divorced and remarried?

For the married woman is deō ("bound") by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.

Notice, the application of the principle that the wife is bound to her husband while he is alive automatically makes her an adulteress if she is joined to another man. There is no exception clause here. If there was an exception clause, the analogy no longer carries any weight. After all, if marriage can be dissolved in some other way besides death, and the jurisdiction of the law is only dissolved by death, then the two are not alike. On the other hand, if the jurisdiction of the law is not really that binding in life, to where we can set it aside in certain circumstances, then one does not really need to die in order to remove its punishments. The whole analogy goes awry unless there is no exception to the principle that binds a husband and wife together for life, even if a civil divorce occurs. It is not while a decree is in force, the wife is bound to her husband, but it is his living that binds her as one to him until death do they part in the eyes of God. If he dies, Paul tells us here, it is then that she is free to remarry. The passage simply makes no sense otherwise. 

The attempt by commentators, such as Moo (413 fn. 24) to say that the argument retains its force, even if divorce and remarriage are possible is an empty assertion, and an attempt to salvage a tradition among Protestants that allows for the breaking of the covenant for other reasons beside death. The truth is that the analogy is false unless death is the only “way out.” If it isn’t, then it is not true that while her husband lives and she is joined to another she is an adulteress (the phrase genētai andri heterō clearly refers to being married to another man, as the verse indicates when it says she will not be considered adulteress if her husband dies and she is genomenēn andri heterō)— something that would not be said if the phrase merely referred to having an affair with a man as opposed to marrying him; and remarriage is only legal in the empire if a divorce has been first secured.

Paul, therefore, assumes the legitimacy of his analogy. As he has taught before in 1 Corinthians 7, only death separates the one flesh union that is bound by the covenant of marriage. When one of the parts of the “flesh” union dies, the union is broken, as flesh/the body is the only binding covenant connection.

As a side note, this is why the Sadducees think they can get Jesus in a bind with their argument concerning the resurrection. If the body returns, and that body was bound to another body, who’s wife is the woman who was married to seven brothers? Jesus counters this by saying that, in the resurrection, marriage no longer holds. Death has broken it forever. The glorified body is no longer bound to other bodies.

Similarly, the law ends at death. It does not come back because one is raised. As with the law of anything, so is the law of marriage to which Paul refers here. Death, and only death, breaks it.

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament Part IV: The Horribly Misunderstood Text of 1 Corinthians 7

Today, I want to discuss 1 Corinthians 7. As a precursor to the discussion, this text is often dismissed as Paul's mere opinion, as opposed to being revelation coming to him from God. This is a common misunderstanding of what he is saying here. Paul is using the Gospel of Mark, and perhaps, the tradition passed down to him concerning what the Lord Jesus taught in His earthly ministry on the subject at hand. When he says that the Lord says this, and I say this, it is not a contrast between what is revelatory and what is mere opinion. It is the distinction between what the Lord has taught already about the subject and what Paul now needs to say further about it. Hence, he states that he considers the fact that, although the Lord did not comment on the situation between believers and unbelievers and whatnot, he has the Spirit of God to guide him in the matter, and hence, what he says is from God. With that understanding, the passage is as follows. 

1Cor 7:1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband [does]; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife [does].
5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command.
7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.

8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion].

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.
13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
15 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.
16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.
18 Was any man called [when he was already] circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but [what matters is] the keeping of the commandments of God.
20 Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.
22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave.
23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that [condition] in which he was called.

25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.
26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;
30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess;
31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;
33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,
34 and [his interests] are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and [to secure] undistracted devotion to the Lord.
36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin [daughter], if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.
37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin [daughter], he will do well.
38 So then both he who gives his own virgin [daughter] in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

What is often neglected in the study of this passage is noting the topic which Paul is addressing. His subject is not divorce. His subject, instead, is marriage. Specifically, he is answering the question, “Is it alright to get married, and if so, in what cases is it alright?” Failure to understand that will be a failure to follow the passage well.
There are four groups mentioned:
(1)   The unmarried
(2)   The widows
(3)   The believer who has divorced
(4)   The believer who has been divorced by an unbeliever
There is no category for a believer who has been divorced by a believer, likely because it is presumed by Paul that the believer will comply to the command of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Mark that believers are not to divorce.

Hence, he argues that those who have never married, virgins, and widows are all free to marry, even if he thinks it would be better if they simply remained single as he is. Those who are not free to marry are those who are already married in the eyes of God, including those who have secured a legal divorce (“legal” in the sense of the civil law court). But we’ll explore that further.
Right now, it is important to note a few things about the words used in the passage, as it can get tricky, which leads to the confusion that many have in somehow seeing Paul as allowing for remarriage after divorce in this passage.

The first thing to note is that the unmarried in v. 8 are not the same group as those who become “unmarried” by divorcing his or her spouse in v. 11. It is clear that Paul distinguishes them by (1) shifting from instructions to the one group to the other, (2) calling the man to whom the divorced woman was married “her husband,” even while she is “unmarried,” and (3) giving them the exact opposite command than the unmarried people in v. 8 who are allowed to marry by telling the unmarried divorced that they are to remain single or be reconciled to their spouses (i.e., they are not to remarry other people). (4) The unmarried in v. 8 provide a chiastic structure and inclusio to the passage, where it becomes clear that the unmarried are those who have never been married (i.e., virgins).

vv. 1-2  It is good to remain unmarried/not to touch a woman, but it is permissible.
vv. 3-6 Married couples need to fulfill their sexual obligations to one another, i.e., to “touch one another” = have sex with one another. This is a good that helps the individual(s) without self control fight the urge to enter into illegitimate sexual activity.
v. 7 But Paul wishes that everyone were able to be single as he is.
vv. 8-9 It is good for the unmarried (or “never married”) and widowed to remain single, but they are free to marry.

vv. 10-11 The married are to remain married, and even if divorced, are to remain single or seek to reconcile.
vv. 12-24 If a married believer is divorced by his or her unbelieving spouse, he or she is not obligated and can let him or her leave in peace, but if the unbelieving spouse consents to live with the believer, a divorce is not to be sought by the believer.
vv. 25-38 (a) It is better for virgins to remain single, (b) but they are permitted to marry.
vv. 39-40 (b’) Widows are free to marry, (a’) but it is better for everyone to remain single.

From this, we can see the parallel between the unmarried and widows in v. 8 and the virgins and widows in vv. 25-40. There is no parallel between the unmarried, who are told that it is permissible to marry, and the divorced, who are told that it is not permissible for them to marry again.

Now, we need to make an important point before we go any further. The principle of Scriptural interpretation needs to be guided by the clear versus the unclear. Paul’s prohibition is clear, even if other words in the text are not. Hence, one should not rely on the possible meaning of a word later on in the text to argue against the clear meaning. So if an unmarried divorced person is still married to his or her spouse in the eyes of God, even if not in the eyes of the state, then that is the rule to which other obscure statements must be reconciled. And that doesn’t even deal with what Christ said about divorce and remarriage yet. At the end of the day, we must reconcile what is said here with what Christ has said about the subject.

Now, it needs to be understood that there are a variety of words for “divorce,” precisely because divorce is a concept not encapsulated by a single word. Hence, numerous words are used for it, but they all, in some way, describe a leaving/abandonment and unwillingness to fulfill the divinely sanctioned covenant made with the spouse any longer. Therefore, I’m not going to quibble over the various words used for divorce, as it is a waste of time and a bad application of lexicography to do so.

Instead, the words to pursue here are those that are often confused with one another, even though conveying different concepts, namely, the words deō (vv. 27, 39) and douloō (v. 15). Marriage is clearly described as a state of being "bound" in vv. 27 and 29 by the word deō. There is no dispute there. The question is whether the word douloō in v. 15 refers to the believer’s obligation to stay married or the actual one flesh union created by the marriage covenant that deō clearly describes. In other words, is the believer bound to stay married to the unbeliever by forcing the unbeliever to remain married, even against the will of the unbelieving spouse, or is douloō conveying the idea that Paul has exclusively used the word deō for, implying that the believer is not really in a one flesh union with the unbeliever anymore after the unbeliever legally divorces the believer in the eyes of the state?  I would argue the former for a few reasons:

(1)   The clear teaching of both this text and the other texts in the New Testament is that a spouse is bound/married in the eyes of God, as one flesh with his or her spouse, until death occurs in one of the partners. Paul repeats this clearly in v. 29.

(2)   Paul gives his reason for letting the unbeliever go and citing the believer’s non-obligation to keeping that spouse as a result of our being called by God to live in peace. This has little to do with not being bound so that one can remarry and everything to do with not forcing the spouse to stay or causing trouble in order to prevent him or her from leaving. Hence, the non-obligation is not about remarriage to another person, but about letting the unbeliever go peacefully without a fight.

(3)   This group is yet again distinguished from the groups that are told they are free to remarry. Paul actually says nothing about remarriage here, only divorce. Because of this, the only thing to say about remarriage is what carries over from the rest of the passage. The rest of the passage argues against remarriage if one is bound to a living spouse, whether a civil divorce has been granted or not. Hence, a new teaching that contradicts all that, when the passage does not even mention remarriage, is ignoring the context.

      However, having said that, it also needs to be noted that this group deals only with an unbeliever leaving a believer. The instructions for believers has already been given, and they prohibit divorce in general and remarriage in the absolute. Hence, believers cannot apply the abandonment passage to believers. To do so is to ignore the context that conveys to whom the instructions are given, and the careful separation of these groups by the Apostle Paul.
      Finally, douloō is used instead of deō for a reason. If Paul wanted to argue what I have above, the only thing he can do is change the word for obligation and attempt to communicate the same principle as the Lord throughout, i.e., that remarriage after marriage is only permitted to widows and widowers. There is no other way for him to convey this. However, if he wanted to convey the same concept as deō, i.e., bondage in the sense of the one flesh union in marriage, it is very confusing for him to have used a different word that can mean something quite different in this context.
      A further note needs to be said of douloō. Lexicons will often cite its use in the passive as referring to marriage, but, in fact, they are getting that concept solely from this passage. The Perfect Passive Indicative is only used here and in 2 Peter 2:19, where it clearly does not refer to marriage, but obligation and enslavement. In fact, this is what the word always means in both the LXX and NT. If we remove the Perfect and Indicative elements, we see the word never used in this way either. In fact, this would be the sole use of the word in this manner if it refers to the marriage covenant in the sense that Paul is saying the believer is no longer married in the eyes of God to the unbeliever (i.e., the sense that deō would have clearly conveyed in the context). In fact, Paul always uses deō, not douloō to convey the concept of being bound to the marriage covenant (see also Rom 7:2).

So what you have now is people arguing a meaning of the word douloō that it never carries elsewhere and would contradict everything that Paul says here and elsewhere about the marriage covenant, not to mention it contradicting the teaching of Christ from which Paul draws his argument.

That last point should also be noted. Paul is teaching from what Christ Himself said about divorce and remarriage. That is to what the “not I, but the Lord” statements refer. Paul is not saying he has revelation from Christ on some things but other things are just his opinion. The whole text is inspired. He is saying that the Lord, in His earthly ministry, said this about divorce and remarriage, but He did not address this or that subject which Paul is now addressing. That is an important point, since this would link the two teachings together directly, providing the Gospel of Mark (not Luke or Matthew yet) context for what Paul is saying.

In case he was misunderstood, Paul states the binding principle of marriage, which was taught by the Lord in His earthly ministry, very clearly:

A wife is deō ("bound") as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (v. 39)

It would seem from this, therefore, that remarriage is never permissible as long as the spouse is alive. However, does the text state that divorce is an option? Paul seems to be operating on the assumption that civil divorce (a legal divorce recognized by the state) should be distinguished from what actually breaks a marriage in God’s eyes, which he explains is only death of one of the partners.

Hence, although there are situations when a civil divorce is inevitable due to the unwillingness of an unbeliever to remain with a believer, remarriage is not an option, lest Paul contradict the principle given by the Lord in the Gospel of Mark and the tradition that underlies it.

However, he seems to also make a concession that separation, even for life, might be warranted in extraordinary cases. I say this because of two things: (1) by prohibiting the divorce of two believers, he then goes on to say that if such is not obeyed, those believers are definitely not to get remarried to others. They are to either remain single or be reconciled. Those are the only options given to them. (2) I think this is brought out by his negating the infinitive rather than using an imperative here. I think Paul is trying to say that divorce is not permissible as the norm, but in extreme cases, if one absolutely must separate, remarriage is not an option. Remember, Paul is talking about the circumstances under which one can and cannot marry. Marriage is good. Those who have never married or are widows are free to marry. Those who have been married, but are divorced, are not free to marry. And it’s better for everyone to simply stay as he is in order to avoid further complications in the eschatological mindset,  but as long as he or she falls into a group where marriage is permissible, he or she is free to marry.

Now, that is what the passage actually argues if we allow the clear to guide the obscure. Whether one sees it as an absolute teaching or not depends upon one’s hermeneutic, but any teaching that does not see it as normative needs to deal with, not only this passage, but also the teaching of Christ upon which this passage is based. If the New Testament should show itself to be in harmony on the subject, as opposed to the a priori judgment that it is contradictory or fluid, then one must ask why it would not be normative.

That’s it for this installment. Next time we’ll look at Paul’s analogy in Romans 7:1-6.