What God Hath Put Together: The Bible on Divorce and Remarriage (part three)
Jesus Interprets Moses
Scripture is plain. I can understand it. So can you. However, if I want to understand a passage, I would elevate what Jesus says about it far above what I think it says. I certainly wouldnâ€™t give special consideration to what unconverted, religious hypocrites thought it said. Neither would Jesus. God established marriage to be a lifelong union. In Mark 10, in response to the ungodly, unscriptural teachings of the Pharisees, Jesus calls for a standard of faithfulness by pointing back to the design of God. That is the approach Jesus took, so it is the one that all of us should take too. In verse six He quotes Genesis 1:27 to trace the meaning of marriage back to the design of God in the very beginning when God created mankind. The implication is that Jesus rejects the Pharisees’ use of Deuteronomy 24:1 and raises the standard of marriage for his disciples to God’s original intention in creation. In other words, Jesus rejects the use of Deuteronomy 24:1 by those who teach that divorce is permissible under certain exceptionsâ€”that was the Pharisaical viewpoint, not His. The issue of divorce and remarriage, He says, is not primarily about the way God regulated the hardness of heart; it is mainly about the meaning of marriage designed by God in creation. What Jesus does is take us back behind the law and say, “God created man male and female.” This is the basis of marriageâ€”Godâ€™s action. Marriage is an act of God that only God can end.
In Mark 10:7, 8, Jesus then makes the explicit and adamant connection between Godâ€™s creation of male and female and marriage by quoting Genesis 2:24. He says that, for this reason, that is, because God created man male and female with a design for marriage (Gen. 1:27), the union between a husband and a wife is permanent. In other words, the leaving of father and mother and the cleaving to each other to form a new family unit is Godâ€™s idea rooted in the way He created and designed man as male and female.
Based upon those two verses in Genesis, in verse nine He gives one of the most important and powerful declarations and commands in the Bible. The declaration is that marriage is the work of God. The union of marriage is something that God doesâ€”it is not just a human decision, or a human tradition. This is true even for people who donâ€™t believe in Godâ€”marriage is something God does, not just man. Therefore, we see that God designed it in Genesis 1:27, described it in Genesis 2:24, and then He did it the day you got married. Marriage is a work of God and gets its meaning from God. Jesus ends His answer to the Pharisees with this powerful command, so that it is clear that the joining is Godâ€™s and the separating is to be Godâ€™s, which is death only.
Paul Agrees with Jesus
In 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, when Paul says that this charge is not his but the Lord’s, He means that he is aware of a specific saying from his God and Savior which addressed this issue. These verses match up with Mark 10:11-12 because there both the wife and the husband are addressed and remarriage is excluded by verse eleven the same way it is excluded in Mark. Paul knows separations will occur, whatever the situations, despite the fact that they are wrong. However, he says that in such cases someone feels constrained to separate, he should not seek remarriage. He should remain single. He reinforces the authority of this statement by saying that this is from the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul summarizes the Lordâ€™s teaching on divorce, he does not include any exception to the total prohibition of divorce by Christ (1 Cor. 7:11). In this context of unbelieving spouse, we would even more expect the possible commission of adultery, exacerbating the need for an immorality exception if one existed. This, therefore, says that Christ taught the indissolubility of marriage and that whatever He meant by porneia (“fornication”) in Matthew was an uncommon meaning. Otherwise, we would expect Paul to include an exception to divorce in his summary. He doesnâ€™t. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 teaches that divorce is wrong but when it occurs, the person who divorces should not remarry.
1 Corinthians 7:15 does not mean that when a Christian is deserted by an unbelieving spouse he or she is free to remarry, but that the Christian is not bound to wrestle in order to stay united. Separation is permissible if the unbelieving partner insists on it. The phrase “is not under bondage” should not be construed to mean “is free to remarry.” Marriage is an ordinance of creation binding on all of God’s human creatures, irrespective of their faith or lack of faith. The word used for “is under bondage” (douloo) in verse fifteen is not the same word used in verse thirty-nine where Paul says, “The wife is bound (deo) by the law as long as her husband liveth.” Paul consistently uses deo when speaking of the legal aspect of being bound to one marriage partner (Romans 7:2; l Corinthians 7:39) or to one’s betrothed (l Corinthians 7:27), but when he refers to a deserted spouse not being bound in l Corinthians 7:15, he selects a different word (douloo), something we would expect if he were not giving a deserted spouse the same liberty to remarry that he gives to a spouse whose partner has died (1 Cor. 7:39).
The last phrase of verse fifteen (“God hath called us to peace”) works best if Paul is saying that a deserted partner is not in bondage to fight with the deserting unbeliever to get him or her to stay. The peace to which God calls us is the peace of marital harmony. The believing partner is not in bondage to live in unending conflict with his unbelieving partner that insists on departing. He or she is free just to let him or her go without that belligerence. This certainly fits with 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, where divorce does not result in the right of remarriage.
These are passages where we get actual plain and propositional teaching on divorce and remarriage, not just speculation about what the will of God is. We should take the passages where we get doctrine concerning divorce and remarriage and then conform the other passages to what they say. For instance, there is a controversy in Ezra 8 through 10. We should not be seeking a teaching on divorce and remarriage in a context of exceptional situations and usages of words. None exists. In Ezra God forbids certain relationships. He doesnâ€™t teach divorce. He doesnâ€™t teach an exception resulting in a permission of divorce. God hates divorce.