Copyright © May 10, 2002, Tim Arensmeier
The wind was tropical, soft. The night had just fallen and the sounds of
the waves on
As a member of the 101st, I had been discharged from the army 90 days early, and about 2½ years later was again drafted because I had not served a full 24 month tour of duty my first time! I volunteered to serve another 3 months, as I saw that as the only moral thing to do, but that didn’t seem to satisfy the draft board. Two years or . . . I accepted the inevitable in spite of protestations to the contrary.
During that second tour of military
service, I met and married my wife, Jan.
For over 48 years now, I’ve been very thankful to the Lord for my second
Draft. We lived in
As a result of their friendship and Ron’s help with many of the practical aspects of faith in Jesus Christ, we invested the next 14 years of our lives with The Navigators. Great years, during which we regularly found ourselves involved with couples. We started the first couples bible study in The Navigators’ history, and didn’t even know it. It just happened, as we were involved at the local chapel program, and increasingly found ourselves answering questions of young military people; some single, some married.
One of the questions which seemed to frequently surface was:
DIVORCE – Under what circumstances may a Christian experience divorce with the freedom to remarry?
At the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, this question surfaced, again and again. We only have about three specific instances cited in the synoptic gospels, in which the question was asked: Matthew 5, 19 and Mark 10. However, given that we only have around 40 days of Christ’s three and a half year public ministry, it does not seem inconsistent that the question surfaced more frequently.
While I was an undergrad at the University of Oregon, there were statistics that reflected that in the general population around 25% of marriages, were ending in divorce. However, couples who were actively involved in the life of their church experienced about a 1% divorce rate.
Today, the divorce rate is higher among churched couples than among the general population. Admittedly, this doesn’t take into account the couples who never bother to marry in the first place.
But, let’s look at the question as framed by the men who asked Christ.
Under what circumstances may we divorce our wives?
Another way it was framed by the Pharisees was, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Our Savior challenged them, as divorce was rampant in our Savior’s day, especially among the Pharisees. For a man to look his wife in the eye, and say, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you,” was all that it took to end a marriage as far as the Pharisees were concerned. From there they could proceed to marry another woman and divorce her on a whim. So, their question to Jesus, who was baffling them with his wisdom and insights, was of note because they instinctively knew something was wrong with their system.
Christ’s initial answer was that they shouldn’t divorce at all.
In a blatant effort of self-defense, they appealed to Moses, suggesting that he had “[commanded] that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Deuteronomy 24:1,2
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Emphasis mine.)
At this point, I will make reference to the King James Version, as it actually adheres to the original more accurately than most contemporary translations.
Christ continues his clarification by saying the following:
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away does commit adultery. Matthew 19:9 KJV
Of specific note here are the words adultery and fornication.
With all due respect it is at this point the scholarship seems to be lacking, as most ministers, priests and other religious leaders seem to take both the Roman Catholic position and that of Noah Webster.
For starters the historic Roman Catholic position is that divorce is just never to be a consideration. It was only while we were missionaries in Germany in the 60’s that the Roman Church even began to consider that there may be circumstances under which a divorce could be granted.
Most pastors when asked about adultery and fornication give the dictionary definition of the terms which essentially go as follows:
Adultery is what happens when two people have sexual intercourse involving at least one person who is married, but not to the person with whom that liaison is taking place. It could also be two married people, but not married to the person with whom they are having sex.
Implicit is that a married person is somehow involved in an extramarital relationship.
Fornication, as commonly understood, is sexual intercourse between two people who are both single at the time.
In other words, adults (at least one of whom is married to someone else) who have extramarital intimacy commit adultery, but two single kids in high school, junior hi or college are merely fornicating.
I would like to disenchant you of both common definitions.
Citing Jesus Christ’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” Matthew , 28. I would like to suggest that God’s definition of adultery is any marital intimacy outside the marriage bonds. That would include singles of any age, or previously married, but now divorced people engaged in any activity, including thoughts which ought to be limited to the marriage bed.
Fornication, however, has a more specific definition, contrary to the common understanding. For instance, were the common understanding to be accurate, then our Savior made a nonsense statement when he said: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery . . .” Matthew 19
How can a married person be single? Or, as some have suggested, he meant that after marriage, if a husband discovers that as a single person his wife had committed fornication, then he may divorce her. I believe it begs further clarification.
From the original, the word which Christ employed was porneia, (porneia) which had such a clear definition that absolutely everybody on the street, hearing Christ speak, knew precisely what he meant.
While it could include adultery, fornication, when Christ used the term, it was immediately and clearly understood by everybody as meaning “perversion(s) of marital intimacies.” It comes from the Greek word, porneia (porneia), from which, today, we derive such words as pornography, pronos, etc. Everybody immediately knew that it included the following:
· Prostitution – the sale, or purchase, of one’s body for gain, male or female.
· Whoredom – sleeping around, not for any gain, or service in exchange, but just the fun of it; again, male or female.
· Bestiality – sex with animals – again, by either male or female.
Homosexuality – male or female, and everybody
knew it was wrong, sin, perverse, and flaunted it until the first big “Coming
Out” parade of homosexuals in
· Pedophilia – sex with children, to include nigh of kin. You’re not suppose to sleep with you sister, brother, cousin, mother, etc.
· Rape – as I can’t figure out how a man can determine that forcing himself on his own wife is a portrayal of Christ loving his Bride (remember the Cross!).
· Physical Abuse – again, ricocheting someone down the stairs, or hitting them, seems a clear violation of love, and
· Emotional Abuse – Caution here. In nearly 50 years of marriage to Jan, have I ever said an unkind word to her? But of course! Am I proud of that? Certainly not! However, have I been emotional abusive? Jan and our girls would say No. I’ve seen emotional abuse. I’ve not been the recipient of it. I know what it means for one person to assiduously work at making another human being feel that they’re on the level of whale dung in the universe. I’ve seen a person literally work at the dehumanization of another human being. That’s emotional abuse.
(For an almost exhaustive study on porneia (porneia ), I would recommend volume VI, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel.)
When our Savior said, “I do not permit divorce, except on the grounds of fornication,”
Was he not from a purely grammatical perspective, saying: “I permit divorce, but only on the grounds of fornication.”?
Do you see that as fair, as a grammatical point of reference? I do.
The point is this: God has some wonderful things to say about marriage. For starters, a marriage between a believer in Jesus Christ and a non-believer is forbidden, because it can’t work. Now, I Corinthians 7 makes reference to it, but implicit within is the idea that the believing person married to the non-believing, is the result of two non-believers having married as non-believers, and subsequently one becomes a believer in (follower of) Jesus Christ. In that context, the apostle Paul is telling the believer not to divorce the non-believer, as the non-believer has a better chance of coming to faith in Christ as a result of being married to the now-believing spouse.
However, in that same context, the apostle Paul is saying that if the non-believing spouse wants out, now that they are married to a recently converted believer, let them go. One of the principle insights in that passage is that “We are called to a life of peace.” Interestingly, Jan and I have encountered several cases like this, where the husband (or wife) has come to faith in Christ subsequent to his wife (or her husband) turning to Christ after they had been married for some time, because the wife (or husband) truly lived out the faith and continued loving her husband (his wife), and did it even better now that she (he) was truly loving Christ, and her husband (his wife).
The italics above are reflective of our own experience that more often than not it is the husband coming to faith in Christ, based on the consistency of the wife, now a new believer in Christ.
There is one additional definition of terms which is necessary to round out what I believe is God’s perspective on this entire subject. That word is divorce.
It could be stated more accurately, “Under what circumstances may a believing individual experience divorce at all?”
You see, the very word divorce means a total severing of a previous relationship, such that the previous relationship may virtually be viewed as never having existed. It was said that a slave who obtained his/her freedom was “divorced” from his/her master. That now free person is so free as to be viewed as having never been a slave.
(See The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume I, edited by Colin Brown.)
Implicit in this discussion is that if a follower of Christ may experience divorce at all, they are, by definition, free to remarry, but only in Christ.
II Corinthians 6:14 – 18, clearly forbids a believer in Jesus Christ from marrying a non-believer. That is merely one application of the passage. Business partnerships which tie believers and their shared profits with non-believers and their desired investments, open up another whole area of application of this principle.
Husbands love your wives –
Another aspect of this entire subject deals with who initiates divorce in the first place.
In a letter from a girl friend of ours, asking questions along these lines, she said the following (names changed to protect . . . ):
I'm doing okay. I've got a question that's been on my mind since I've been taking Religion courses through a local bible college. I've been dating this man named Henry now for over a year and we are talking about getting married. Nothing is set in stone, but could be a possibility in the future. He is not a believer. He grew up a Catholic and that has sort of turned him off towards the Lord.
(My comments in blue.)
Interesting that you should state it that way. Number one, if he’s not a believer in Jesus Christ, you’re going to generate another disaster for yourself, as God forbids us from being unequally yoked together with unbelievers. [II Corinthians 6:14 – 18] Hummmm. My question would be why play with fire if you don’t plan to get burned?
Or, stated another way, I can see why he would be turned off toward the church, but Christ? Try talking with him about Jesus Christ. I’ve frequently found that many people are truly turned off toward the church and Christianity, but when you or I speak freely with them about Jesus Christ, they are quite interested in talking about Him. I’m turned off toward the church and Christianity, but I love following Jesus. And, when I’m doing that because of what all He did for me in time and space, I even find that I can get along with others who are also followers of the Savior. After all, that’s what He directed us to do, isn’t it? “Follow me,” appears again and again throughout the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke ‘n John).
He is very supportive of my choice and my beliefs and asks me questions about the Bible, about what church was about and what I learned in class. I pray for him daily that the Lord will open his eyes and bring him to Himself. My question has to do with divorce. He has been divorced twice.
His first divorce occurred because he and his wife at the time felt they got married to soon and mutually decided to end the marriage.
His wife didn’t decide that!
His second wife cheated on him.
I’m not buying it.
And, here’s the reason, Sis. When you or I approach life with a “biblical world view,” meaning, we’re attempting to see life from and within the grid of how God sees it, as revealed in His word, it helps.
In Ephesians 5, 21ff, it is clearly laid out that a husband should “love [his] wife as Christ loved His Bride (the Church) and gave Himself up for her.”
Now, think about that for even a small minute, and answer me this question: Why, having been involved in marriage and family counseling for 45 years (plus), have I never yet met the woman who is trying to get away from a man who is working at loving her in any way, shape, or form, reflective of his own appreciation of how much Christ loved His Bride, and gave Himself up (on the cross of Calvary) for her?
The sexes are equal in value before God, Karen, but, wildly different in how they’re wired together by God.
Women are the lovers. Men merely think they are lovers. Men will pursue women – and here, we must break and talk reality – right into bed, and quit. It used to be that men would pursue a woman to marriage, then all too often, quit. It used to be that people (even non-believers) thought (because of societal pressure, for sure) that being married was the right and proper environment for getting naked and into bed with each other.
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore, sung by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, became and remains a very special song – to women, as they know the truth of it. A man will pursue a woman, until he gets what he wants from her, i.e., sex. After that, especially if they’ve not bothered to get married, he starts looking otherwhere. The accomplishment has happened. The “hunter” has conquered.
When we get the sequence out of God’s order, men loose interest and start looking somewhere else.
If we wait, and don’t get into bed before marriage, or go into other sexual areas reserved for the marriage, and here a former President has popularized oral sex as not being sex, to the place where junior high school kids are doing it all over the place today . . . gasp! . . . as I was saying, if we wait, because we are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, then God enters into the equation and a couple may enjoy great intimacy at all levels, and the husband will continue pursuing and the wife will continue responding. That’s the Godly order as set forth in Ephesians 5.
Women don’t have affairs, if they know they’re loved and valued, cherished and appreciated by their husbands. Women, not to excuse adultery, but to explain how it happens, will not be available to men on the prowl at the club, work or church, if they’re truly loved at home by their husbands.
(Parenthetically, it may be true that a woman who brings much “baggage” to the marriage relationship, i.e., sexual abuse in her childhood, multiple previous marriages, etc., could at a subconscious level work at torpedoing her own marriage. After all, God says that “A foolish woman destroys her own home with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1 Admitting that God makes provision for such a woman existing, I merely repeat that I have not met one. . . yet.)
Do you see what I’m saying? For a woman to have been divorced, I’m tender towards her, as she was divorced by an idiot who was selfish and non-loving. For a man who has been divorced, it’s a pretty different story. He didn’t love his wife! Wonderfully, I know men who have qualified, and subsequently come to faith in Christ, or grown up in Him, and have seen their responsibility for their previous marriage dying. There’s hope for that kind of a man.
Women don’t initiate divorce, men do. I know. You know women who have filed the paperwork, and I accept that, but . . . they didn’t initiate it! The men did by abusing them either physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, religiously, intellectually or in any of a myriad of ways. Neglect is a form of abuse. Being a workaholic frequently results in a wife feeling neglected . . . because she is!
Men are the instigators, or predators, hunters or doers. Women are the responders. Equal before God, but different.
Do you remember what I told your brother at his wedding? “You’re the human doing. She’s the human being.” I recall telling Ernie that were he, your dad and I to go buffalo hunting, and Ernie killed three a day, your dad one a day, and I killed one every three days, we’d all know who the best hunter was, as we [men] tend to automatically think in a vertical pecking order.
Women, however, historically don’t think vertically. When my wife had four small children, and another wife had only one, the mother of the one didn’t respect Jan with her four. She felt sorry for Jan! After all, she had three more noses and diapers to worry about!
There’s significant difference between men and women, while being totally equal in value before God.
This is why, in Christ’s time, the men asked the question as to what circumstances were permitted for them to divorce their wives. To say nothing of the fact that women didn’t have the option to even file for divorce.
In brief summation, Christ did grant an occasion when a believer could initiate divorce from a person claiming to be a believer: when that person had committed fornication in the marriage. God is calling his people to be united in marriage to others who share belief in Jesus Christ such that they demonstrate their love towards God by demonstrating a godly love towards their spouse. Should a woman have a husband who essentially throws her and her daughters out of the house because he is committed to drugs, illicit sex and drunkenness, she should go, and terminate the relationship. Remember, “We are called to a life of peace.”
Even the comments by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7, reflect a tenderness towards the non-believing, provided the non-believing spouse is content to live at peace with their newly converted believing spouse.
While I will acknowledge that this approach is at variance from the popularly accepted position, I also am aware of many women who have been abused unnecessarily by pastors and other religious leaders because they were told to return to an abusive husband because “God hates divorce.” True, God hates divorce, especially by the religious leaders, to whom that comment was specifically aimed by God through the prophet Malachi. As pastors and religious leaders divorce, with impunity, why do you suppose the sheep of God’s pasture learn to think that divorce is no big deal?
A final comment relating to “submission:” submission is not synonymous with subservience. Submission is a voluntary giving of oneself for the benefit of another person. I volunteer submission. If I do something because your hands are around my throat, literally or figuratively, that’s subservience. Christ is the eternally submissive second Person of the triune God, voluntarily offering himself to God the Father. While the eternal, co-equal of the Father, Christ, God-the-Son, serves the Father. What a picture for marriage: two equal partners in the gift of Life I Peter 3:7, voluntarily giving themselves in submission to each other. It takes the assistance of God the Spirit to pull that off, but Praise God! He is available to assist anyone committed to obeying the admonition in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Tim Arensmeier is the pastor of
the Sonoma Valley Community Church (RCA),
Web posted: May 10, 2002
Updated: April 12, 2012