SHE HONORS AND UPHOLDS GOD'S TEACHING ON
MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE
by Wayne Jackson
Marriage is a covenant
between a man and a woman wherein they agree to become joined to one
another for the purpose of establishing a permanent home. Marriage was
instituted by God with the creation of Adam and Eve. The first couple,
being made male and female, were designed for marriage (Genesis 1:27),
and so, it was the purpose of God that man and woman should have the
privilege of becoming "one flesh" in the divinely organized arrangement
of wedlock (Gen. 2:24).
The preservation of the
marriage relationship is vitally important to the well-being of society
as a whole. First, within the family unit there is provided a sphere of
stability wherein one has the right to a family name, security of
property, and an intimate atmosphere of love and trust. Second, marriage
contributes to community solidarity. No society could long exist without
marriage. In fact, "There are no societies in which marriage does not
Marriage, in harmony
with God's original plan, is certainly an honorable state: "Let marriage
be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled. . . " (Hebrews
13:4). And while there may be times of extreme stress or difficulty when
it might be in one's best interest not to marry (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26,
28, 32, 35, 40), the general principle would be, "It is not good that
man [or woman] should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). The Bible makes it clear
that "forbidding to marry" is contrary to the will of God (1 Timothy
Holy matrimony, as
designed by God, certainly has many benefits. First, as just indicated,
it provides for intimate personal companionship (Gen. 2:18). Mankind,
created in the image of the triune Godhead (Gen. 1:2;7), is social in
disposition. Second, marriage is the legitimate avenue by which children
are to be brought into the world (Gen. 1:28; 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:14). Jehovah
never intended that children be the product of animalistic breeding
experiments! Third, matrimony affords man and woman a moral and
responsible means of satisfying the God-given sexual appetites of their
bodies. The sexual "bed" is undefiled within valid marriage (Heb.
God's divine ideal for
the marital union is that it should last as long as both parties are
alive. Death of one of the marriage partners, of course, terminates this
relationship (Romans 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39) and there is no "marriage" beyond
the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:30).
Divorce -- Since God is
the author of marriage, it is His prerogative and His alone, to
determine when a marriage can be dissolved while both partners are still
living. What, therefore, is the divine will concerning divorce? Ideally,
God "hates" divorce (cf. Malachi 2:16), for even when a valid divorce is
allowed by the Lord, there has been a violation of the marriage covenant
by at least one of the parties. No divorce can involve two innocent
persons; one of them may be, but at least one will be guilty.
Under the Old Testament
system, if a man's wife "found no favor in his eyes" because he found
some unseemly thing in her, he could write her a "bill of divorcement"
and "send her out of his house" (that is, divorce her) (Deuteronomy
24:1). Yet, this was not consistent with Heaven's original ideal. God,
through Moses, only tolerated it due to the "hardness of heart"
characteristic of the Israelite people (Matt. 19:8). Jesus Christ,
however, in discussing this very matter, declared that "from the
beginning it hath not been so" (Matt. 19:8). The grammar of this
verbally inspired passage implies that God's original marriage plan, as
instituted in Eden, had ideally never changed, though a relaxation of it
had been allowed under the Mosaic economy.2 Then, in anticipation of his
New Covenant law, Jesus preceeded to restore marriage to its original
intent. Accordingly, the Lord said: "And I say unto you, whosoever shall
put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another,
committeth adultery" (Matt. 19:9). Several things may be said of this
First, the passage is
obviously of universal application, that is, the whole human family lies
under obligation of it. The term "whosoever" is equal to "every one"
(cf. Matt. 5:22, 31, 32). God expects, therefore, every human being who
is capable of entering the marriage union, to be responsible to His
Second, Christ taught
that no one can "put away" [the word means "divorce"] his [or her]
companion unless the divorce is on the basis of fornication. The term
"fornication" is general in meaning; it denotes "every kind of unlawful
sexual intercourse."3 The Lord thus allows divorce, and subsequent
remarriage, only on the grounds of fornication. From the positive angle,
this means the innocent partner,4 in a marriage that has been violated
by fornication (extra-marital sexual conduct), has the right of divorce,
and, if desirable, remarriage. From the negative side, the passage
teaches that one who divorces for some reason other than fornication is
not at liberty to remarry.
Matthew 19:9 affirms
that one who divorces a companion, unless the divorce be for
fornication, "committeth adultery." In the Bible, adultery "denotes any
voluntary cohabitation of a married person with any other than his
lawful spouse."5 The tense of this verb, as used here in the Greek New
Testament, suggests the idea of continued action. In other words, the
person who enters this illicit union "keeps on committing adultery" each
time he is sexually intimate with the new partner. By the formation of a
new "marriage," the individual "enters the realm of adultery,"6 or, as
Prof. William F. Beck rendered it in his translation, he is "living in
adultery."7 The reason why this new union is called "adultery" is quite
obvious; though the divorced person has joined him- self to a new mate
[according to human legal requirements], according to the law of God, he
is still married to his original wife. The new union is thus not
approved by God.
In Matthew 5:32 Christ
taught that "every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause
of fornication, maketh her an adulteress . . . " She is not an
adulteress simply because she has been put away, of course. But this
divorced woman will likely marry again, and in so doing, she will be
entering an adulterous union.
Some have attempted to
establish that there is another reason for divorce, namely if a
Christian, who is married to an unbeliever, is deserted by that infidel
mate, the Christian is free to form a new marriage. It is claimed that
proof for this view is to be found in 1 Corinthians 7:15, where, in the
case of an unbeliever leaving the Christian, the Christian "is not under
bondage." Some contend that the Christian is thus released from the
"bondage" of marriage and so may remarry. However, this is not the case.
The term "bondage" literally means "enslavement" (see Titus 2:3 where
the same Greek word is translated "enslaved"), and the marriage
relationship has never been viewed as an enslavement ! The apostle is
simply saying that if the unbeliever threatens to depart if the
Christian does not forsake Christ, then the Christian may "let him
depart." One is not obligated to be enslaved to that unbelieving spirit
of rebellion. But, as one scholar notes, "Nothing is said about a second
marriage for the believer; it is vain to put words in Paul's mouth when
he is silent."8
The New Testament
teaching regarding divorce and remarriage is very strict, especially in
view of modern society's loose and compromising views of morality. And
there is no question but that many people have, through ignorance,
involved themselves in some heart-breaking, though immoral,
relationships. But this important truth must be observed; while we
should be compassionate towards the weak and sinful by attempting to
help them, we cannot lower the standards of the Holy Scriptures to a
degenerate society ! Rather, we must encourage and challenge noble
people to rise to the elevating authority of God's inspired Truth.
Christianity requires great sacrifices; it has even cost many their very
lives. But regardless of the costs, let us be brave enough to seek the
Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Churches of Christ
urge their fellow-citizens to respect and extol the virtues of the home
as ordained by Almighty God.
1 Ashley Montague, The
Cultured Man, New York: Permabooks, 1959, p. 240.
2 M. R. Vincent, Word
Studies in the New Testament, Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers &
Authors, 1972, p. 65.
3 William Arndt & F .W.
Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,
Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1967, p. 699.
4 By "innocent" we mean
one who has not only been sexually faithful to his [or her} spouse, but
also who has not, by means of designing schemes, driven that partner to
5 J. Theodore Mueller,
"Adultery," Baker's Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1960, p. 27.
6 Dictionary of New
Testament Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, II, p. 583.
7 William F. Beck, THE
NEW TESTAMENT in the Language of Today, St. Louis: Concordia, 1963, p.
8 Lewis Johnson Jr., "1
Corinthians," Wycliff Bible Commentary, London: Oliphants, 1963, p.
Who is the original
author of marriage?
What is the
significance of two becoming one flesh?
Name and discuss some
benefits of marriage.
circumstances does God allow divorce and remarriage?
Why did Moses allow the
Hebrews to divorce for many causes?
Upon what did Jesus
base his teaching on divorce?
To be pleasing to God,
those unlawfully divorced should. . . ?
How can we strengthen
our marriages against the ravages of divorce?