Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 25, 2014
Marriage, Separation, Divorce & Remarriage
When a society abandons God’s word as its standard of morality, then it will reap the terrible consequences. The greatest threat to the family in our society is its dissolution through divorce. Our divorce rate is high because so many husbands and wives are following their own will instead of God’s design for marriage and the family. This leads directly to family strife, divorce and family dissolution. Divorce has a high cost financially, personally and for society since it erodes the foundation of a healthy society. (See: The Dangers of Divorce)
Last week I gave an overview of what Jesus said about divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 in which He contrasts the teaching of the self- righteousness scribes to the true righteousness of His own teaching. The scribes thought themselves to be righteous because they got their legal paper work done when they divorced their wives for whatever reason. Their practice was not really much different from what occurs today since people in our society divorce for a whole host of sinful reasons for which they still try to justify themselves. The blame game is normal. He is this or she is that. Then there is the fatalistic “we were just incompatible,” a euphemism for “neither of us thought enough of the other to work at the marriage anymore.” And finally there is the facade of claiming “it is better for the kids.”
The truth is that a divorce that occurs for a reason other than what Jesus states here just leads to more adultery. Jesus said in Matthew 5:32 that “everyone who divorces his wife, except for reason of unchasity [parekto;V lovgou porneiv/aV / apart from reason of porneia] makes her commit adultery” and “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” In Matthew 19:9 Jesus adds that “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [mh; ejti; porneiv/a / not for porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery.” Unrighteous divorce increases adultery. That was Jesus point in Matthew 5:31-32 in contrasting true righteousness with the teaching of the scribes. The thought they were righteous by doing the legal work in their divorce, but they were in fact multiplying adultery.
This week I want to expand and look at other Scriptures that deal with divorce to bring about an understanding about when divorce will not result in more adultery. Let me stress again that Jesus does not advocate divorce nor give cause for divorce to occur. In both Matthew 5 and 19 Jesus only states the one exception in which divorce would not increase adultery.
God’s Intention for Marriage – Matthew 19:1-6
Turn first to Matthew 19 in which Jesus will state God’s intention for marriage as well as why divorce was allowed in the Old Testament in the first place.
Verse 1: “And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee, and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and great multitudes followed Him and He healed them there. And some Pharisees came to him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?”
The Pharisees have come to Jesus with the express purpose of “testing” Him. Their question in verse 3 is specifically designed to cause Jesus to lose favor with the people. They already knew that Jesus would give a very conservative answer from what He said in Matthew 5:31-32. Their hope was that if Jesus publicly declared His view on this volatile issue, those who held to other views would no longer follow Him.
There were three common views held by the Rabbis concerning divorce and that of Rabbi Hillel’s was by far the most popular. He taught that the Mosaic Law allowed a man to divorce his wife for nearly any reason including such trivial matters as either burning or over salting the meal. Following Hillel’s lead, some Rabbis not only made divorce easy, but even taught that it was required. One Rabbi wrote, “If a man has a bad wife, it is a religious duty to divorce her.”
Rabbi Shammai held the opposite view. He did not allow for divorce for any reason under any circumstance. This view was of course very unpopular. The Pharisees hoped that Jesus might espouse this view and so be seen as narrow minded and intolerant resulting in Him losing favor among the people.
The third view restricted divorce to only a few very specific reasons spelled out in the Law of Moses. Divorce was possible, but only under special circumstances.
The Pharisee’s question to Jesus is one that still interests many people who want to be both religious and get what they want too. They study the Scriptures to find sufficient cause to divorce. They want to know when they can bail out and get a different spouse. This is the way of self-righteousness. There is greater interest in finding the loopholes in the law in order to avoid compliance than in seeking out the intent of the law so that it can be faithfully followed. This is so common today that even within conservative evangelical churches of America, divorce is nearly as rampant as outside the church with it being justified for an increasing number of causes. If that is the case with you, Jesus’ answer will greatly disappoint you.
Jesus does not answer the Pharisees’ question. He instead goes directly to the heart of the issue from God’s perspective. Verse 4, “And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [Gen 1:27; 5:2] and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’? [Gen 2:24; Col 6:16]. Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Jesus skips their question about divorce and instead goes to Genesis to teach them about God’s original plan for marriage – a plan that has not changed. God’s moral will for marriage is one man and one woman joined together for life. They are to “cleave” together. This means they are joined or “glued” together in such a way that they cannot be separated without severe damage to both. Notice as well that Jesus says that it is God that joined the two together. Marriage is right and honorable before God for it is in keeping with His original commandments to mankind. When man does not follow God’s design, then he will incur the negative consequences of his actions.
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees goes to the root of their problem which is the same problem people still have. They were not interested in God’s will. Their interest was in being able to do their own will while still proclaiming themselves to be religious and good.
The Cause of Divorce – Matthew 19:7-9
You would think that the Pharisees would be wise enough to back off at this point, but instead they press the issue in verse 7, “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?” Their reference is to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which we looked at last week. It does not command divorce as the Pharisees imply here. In that passage Moses’ restricts the reasons for divorce, protects the wife by commanding that the legal work to be done and given to her, then prohibits the man from remarrying the wife he divorced that had married another man and was now a widow or divorced again. However, the Pharisees focused on determining what indecency found in her would justify their practice of divorce than the actual point of the passage. It was this debate about the indecency found that led to the differing views on divorce. The debate in our own time about divorce has the same root. Jesus clarifies in vs. 8 & 9.
Verse 8, He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” Jesus again goes to the heart of the issue. Divorce was not commanded. It was permitted and only then because of the hardness of their hearts. It is still the same today. Divorce occurs because of the hardness of men’s hearts. People, even professing believers, can be stubborn in the pursuit of their own desires instead of God’s will and so either reject or twist God’s commands. This is true not only of the spouse that sins and refuses to repent, but it can also be true of the spouse that is sinned against that refuses to forgive. Because some men and women would become hard of heart and refuse to follow God’s design, God through Moses permitted divorce, but it was not His original plan for man.
In verse 9 Jesus partially answers their question. He says, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality [mh; ejti; porneiv/a / not for porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery.” Jesus still does not give a cause for divorce. He does not say “you may divorce your wives for the cause of immorality.” Jesus does not sanction divorce. Instead He points out again that divorce results in more adultery. The so called “exception clauses” here and in Matthew 5:32 deal with the one case, that of porneiva / porneia, in which divorce does not result in additional adultery.
The Exception to Multiplied Adultery – Matthew 5:32; 19:9
What then does porneiva / porneia refer to in Matthew 5:32; 19:9? Get ready to write down the references I am going to give. There is a lot of confusion on the issue of divorce and remarriage and most of it is because personal opinions are being espoused rather than looking at all of what Scripture says on the topic.
Primary in understanding the interpretation of any passage is that clear passages govern difficult passages. What is clear in Scripture in regards to divorce?
3) God only commanded divorce in one unique situation – Ezra 10. The priests had married foreign wives contrary to Mosaic law and were in danger of forfeiting their priesthood.
b) Deuteronomy 21:10f – A woman captured during a war that is made the wife of one of the men of Israel and then he has “no delight in her” can be released to “go wherever she will,” but she cannot be sold as merchandise (booty – a slave) because she has been “humbled.”
c) Deuteronomy 24:1. A wife finds no favor in her husband’s eyes because of some indecency in her.
5) God regulated divorce in certain situations and said it could not take place. This necessarily implies that in other situations divorce could take place.
b) Deuteronomy 22:28-29 – A man finds a virgin that is not engaged and then seizes her and lies with her and then they are discovered. He must pay the girl’s father a fine (essentially a dowry) and “she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”
c) Deuteronomy 24:1-4 – A woman divorced then married to another man cannot return to the first husband even if the second husband divorces her or dies.
6) Divorcees are treated differently in certain circumstances.
b) Leviticus 22:13 – A priest’s daughter who is widowed or divorced and had no children of her own to support her could return to his home and “eat of her father’s food; but no layman shall eat of it.”
c) Numbers 30:9 – The vow of a woman could be annulled by her father or husband if married, but the widow and the divorced woman would be held to their vows.
With all this in mind we can now seek to understand what Jesus states in Matthew 5:32 & 19:9. In our limited time I cannot be completely exhaustive, but I will cover the major arguments of the various views concerning a Biblically based restriction on divorce. Keep in mind that no matter which view I personally support, there would be those that would disagree. However, I am comfortable and confident that the view I take has the strongest backing of Scripture. I have studied this particular subject for a long time and while the majority is not always right, it is still comforting to be in agreement with the vast majority of conservative Biblical scholars of the past century.
First are those that believe that the Bible teaches no divorce is allowed at all. Certainly it is God’s original intent for marriage to be permanent in this life, but from the passages already cited we must conclude that this position is not true. In addition, Matthew 1:19 cites Joseph as a “righteous man,” yet he desired to put Mary away secretly. The phrase “put away” in that verse is the Greek word for divorce (apolu;w/ apoluo) which is what Joseph would have to do legally since he and Mary were already betrothed to each other. In Jewish law they were legally bound in marriage though it had not been consummated yet.
All the other views on divorce are directly related to understanding the meaning of porneiva / porneia in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.
The first view in this category is that divorce is only allowed for adultery. However, if Jesus had meant only adultery he would have said adultery, for there is a specific Greek word for adultery – moica;w / moichao. In fact, Jesus uses that very word in both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 as the consequence of divorce apart from porneiva / porneia.
Some view porneiva / porneia as used here to be a reference to premarital sexual intercourse. There are two opinions within this view. The first is that it refers to sexual sin during the betrothal period but before the wedding. The strength of this view is the fact that Matthew was written to Jewish people and he had already presented Joseph as a righteous man even though he had sought to quietly divorce Mary after he found out she was pregnant. This view allows Joseph to continue to be considered a righteous man while for all practical purposes eliminating any reason for divorce. However, a general definition of porneiva / porneia would also allow Joseph to be considered righteous without such a narrow restriction.
The second idea is that this refers to the case in which the woman was supposed to be a virgin and turned out not to be one such as is discussed in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. The problem with both of these ideas is that neither the immediate context nor the context of the referenced passage in Deuteronomy 24 indicate such a restricted definition and therefore it is doubtful that those listening to the Sermon on the Mount or the Pharisees in Matthew 19 would have understood it that way. Both end up promoting the odd idea that fornication is serious and can result in divorce, but adultery after the wedding cannot.
Another view held by a few is that porneiva / porneia here is a reference to marriage to too near a relative – consanguinity. This is a very confusing view and it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to even follow its arguments. Leviticus 18 is used as a list to define “the too near relationships,” however the list of immoralities in Leviticus 18 better fits a general definition of porneiva / porneia. It also includes general adultery (20), child sacrifice in idolatry (21), homosexuality (22) and bestiality (23). There is nothing to indicate those hearing Jesus would have understood porneiva / porneia to refer to only a few of the immoralities in Leviticus 18 and not all of them.
This brings us to what I believe is the correct understanding of porneiva / porneia and therefore what Jesus means. porneiva / porneia is a general term for sexual immorality and perversions. It includes everything listed in Leviticus 18 & 20 as immoralities: fornication, adultery, incest, homosexuality and bestiality. All of these specific sins fit within the general meaning of porneiva / porneia. Every lexicon shows this to be true. To single any narrower meaning of one sexual sin as opposed to the others would have to be demonstrated by the context. The context in both Matthew 5 & 19 is general. There is nothing in them to indicate that those listening would have understood anything other than the general meaning of the word. Jesus could have easily used terms with very narrow meanings instead of the most broad term available for sexual sin. In addition, Jesus’ correction on their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in limiting divorce to only sexual sins was a great restriction to their practice which had become common. This explains the shock at His statement.
Divorce for cause of sexual immorality is an extension of God’s mercy to the sinner. The Mosaic law demanded death for such sin, but even by the time of Joseph and Mary divorce was an acceptable substitute for death. Mary was betrothed to Joseph and therefore considered married. She was pregnant by someone other than Joseph and she made no claim to being raped. The penalty in Deuteronomy 22 was death, yet Joseph was seen as righteous even though he was not carrying out that penalty, but rather divorcing her.
God in His mercy was allowing divorce to substitute for the death that should have occurred. The practice may have come from God’s own example in Isaiah 50 and Jeremiah 3 in which God says He divorced Israel because of their idolatry with false gods which He described as “all the adulteries of faithless Israel” (Jer. 3:8). The analogy should have demanded the death of the nation. Instead, God is merciful and gracious and though He divorced her (the captivity period), God would not be angry forever and calls them back to repentance and returning to Him (Jeremiah 3:12f). Jesus’ own practice was merciful as seen with the woman caught in the act of adultery who was brought before Him. Jesus did not exact the penalty of death upon her. He instead called her to repentance and to go and sin no more (John 8:4-11).
The exception clause in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is a general reference to sexual sins including adultery, premarital fornication, incest, homosexuality and bestiality. All of these items break the monogamous nature of the marriage relationship. In marriage the two are to cleave and be one flesh. 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 indicates that sexual intercourse joins two into one and that sexual sin breaks the monogamous relationship and makes it polygamous. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! Or do yo not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” It is God’s mercy extended to the sinning partner that he or she is not put to death as the Old Testament law demanded.
Remarriage is assumed in both passages. In Matthew 5:32 the man who divorces his wife for a reason other than sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery because it is assumed she will remarry. The committing of adultery in both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 occurs upon remarriage. Jesus’ inclusion of the exception clauses for porneiva / porneia are not approval of divorce, they only explain the instances when remarriage after divorce does not result in multiplied adultery.
God’s plan for marriage is that it should be lifelong and monogamous. Though Jesus permits divorce under the one exception porneiva / porneia- sexual immorality, He neither commands or gives approval of it. If divorce does occur, Jesus says it is because of the hardness of hearts.
Separation – 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
There is one other passage I must quickly refer to before we conclude this morning. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul makes some significant statements concerning marital separation. 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, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away. Stop. The Scriptures give room for separation. You do not have to stay with an abusive spouse. Such a person should be put in jail. The church is to be a haven for the abused, not a place that tries to force abused people back into dangerous situations. The problem has to be corrected before reconciliation can take place. But please note that in such situations the goal is to reconcile or else remain single.
Paul continues, 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, let him not send her away. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her 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?
To summarize this section, do all you can reasonably do to remain together, but if an unbelieving spouse refuses to live with you because he or she cannot stand your living for Christ, then you can let them go. A spouse that continues to be unfaithful must choose between you and their paramour. They may not have both. Please note, this is not approval for divorce and remarriage as some have tried to make it. What Jesus says in Matthew 5 and 19 still apply.
These Scripture passages give serious warning about seeking a reason to get divorced. As Christians, each of us should have a commitment to marriage that reflects God’s original design to the point that if divorce does occur, it will only be because the other spouse has become hardened in heart and committing sexual sin. That other person is already an abomination before God because of their sin. It is God’s mercy that they remain alive. Their remarriage increases adultery. The “innocent” party of such a divorce would not be guilty of adultery if he or she remarried.
But even in situations in which a spouse has committed porneiva / porneia of some sort, remember the example of Hosea. He was willing to forgive and kept seeking reconciliation with a wife who was a prostitute. Remember also Jesus’ example of forgiveness in Matthew 18. A characteristic of true righteousness is mercy and forgiving others because we have received so much mercy and forgiveness from God. That is how the Christian is to respond. If divorce does occur, it should only be because your spouse has become hardened in heart, not because your heart is hard.
That is also how we respond to fellow believers who have been through divorce even if they were the guilty party. Forgiveness should be given to all those who repent from sin, and adultery and divorce are no exception. There may still be consequences, but forgiveness should be extended. And when God washes, sanctifies and justifies someone in our Lord Jesus Christ, then they are new creatures and clean (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
We have not discussed every passage dealing with divorce, but we have dealt with the heart of the matter. There is a Synopsis on Divorce in the literature rack in the back that summarizes this teaching and how I counsel people in view of what the Scriptures say.
1) I never counsel anyone to divorce even if it appears that if they did there would be no adultery on their part since their spouse committed sexual sin.
2) I may counsel for separation under certain circumstances. In some situations I may also counsel that legal actions be pursued.
3) I encourage reconciliation or at least an openness to it until there is no longer a possibility of it due to death or remarriage by the spouse. This is in accordance with Paul’s directives in 1 Corinthians 7:11 and the example of Hosea.
4) When a professing believer seeks a divorce for a reason other than sexual sin on the part of their spouse, I pursue church discipline because they are breaking a clear command of Christ and are compounding sin.
5) Remarriage is on a case by case basis. Factors involved include: the circumstances of the divorce, who committed what sin, whether they were Christians at the time, the possibility of reconciliation with the former spouse, their own walk with the Lord.
Let me close with what I said last week. Divorce is a terrible tragedy. There is a high cost financially, personally, and spiritually. It destroys God’s plan for the family. Divorce will almost always have lasting effects that cannot be changed, but God can heal and restore people damaged by divorce and make them useful in His kingdom. That is regardless of what particular sin was committed or who committed it. Divorce is caused by sin, but it is not an unforgivable sin. Anyone that looks down on another Christian just because they have been divorced is in the same danger of self-righteousness as the Scribes and Pharisees. Just over a quarter of the families in our church have been through divorce. Another quarter are children of divorced parents. I praise the Lord that through His mercy and grace that comes by faith in Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness for those who have sinned and healing for those who have been hurt, so that they are part of our church and serving the Lord alongside everyone else in striving to reach our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “divorce” is said. Talk with your parents about the God heals those hurt by divorce
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What was Jesus’ point in Matt. 5:31-32? What is the point of the Pharisee’s question in Matt. 19:3? How did Jesus answer them? What is God’s intention for marriage? How did Jesus correct them about Deut. 24:1-4? What does Jesus say is the cause of divorce? What does the Bible clearly teach about marriage and divorce? See: Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-8; Malachi 2:16; Ezra 10; Exodus 21:7f; Deut. 21:10f; Deut. 24:1-4; Deut. 22:13-19, 28-29; Lev. 21:7,14; 222:13; Num. 30:9; Jer. 3:1-10. What is the meaning of porneiva / porneia? What is the consequence if a divorce occurs for a reason other than porneia? How does sexual immorality break the marriage covenant? What reasons can cause a marital separation? What are the godly options for someone who does separate? Does 1 Corinthians give justification for divorce and remarriage? Explain. How should a Christian respond to an unfaithful spouse? Why? What options are their for a Christian whose spouse continues to be unfaithful? When should a Christian stop pursuing reconciliation? How does God cleanse the guilty one in a divorce? Who does he heal the innocent one?
Sermon Notes: Marriage, Separation, Divorce & Remarriage
May 25, 2014 – Selected Scriptures
When a society abandons God’s word as its standard of ________, then it will reap the terrible consequences
People pursues divorce for a whole host of ___________reasons for which they still try to justify themselves
Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-9 – divorce for reason other than porneiva / porneia multiplies ____________
God’s Intention for Marriage – Matthew 19:1-6
The Pharisees are purposely “__________” Jesus in the effort to cause Him to lose popularity
Rabbi Hillel taught divorce could occur for nearly _______________- his view was the most popular
Rabbi Shammai taught that divorce was ______allowed for any reason under any circumstance – not popular
The third view allowed divorce but only under _______________circumstances
The self-righteous seek _________in the law in order to do what they want and still think they are righteous
Jesus ignores their question and instead teaches them __________ perspective on marriage – Matt. 19:4-6
God’s moral will for marriage is one man and one woman joined together for life – God _____them together
The Cause of Divorce – Matthew 19:7-9
Verse 7: The Pharisee’s interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as a ___________to divorce, not a restriction on it
Verse 8: Divorce was not commanded, only permitted due to the ________________of human hearts
Hard hearts include not only the one that sins and will not repent, but also the one that will not ___________
Verse 9: Not a cause for divorce, just the exception in which remarriage after divorce _______cause adultery
The Exception to Multiplied Adultery – Matthew 5:32; 19:9
Clear teaching in the Scriptures regarding marriage and divorce
2) God ___________divorce (Malachi 2:16)
3) God only _________________ divorce in one unique situation – Ezra 10
4) God _____________for divorce in particular situations
5) God ______________divorce in certain situations and said it could not take place
6) __________________are treated differently in certain circumstances
7) God uses the _____________of divorce to express his dealings with Israel at the time of the captivities
The Various Views on Divorce and Remarriage
A) Divorce is ___________________ for any reason – or if divorce does occur, no remarriage is allowed
B) Divorce is allowed only for ______________- but Jesus uses porneiva / porneianot moica;w / moichao
C) Divorce is allowed only if there was unfaithful________________sexual intercourse
D) Divorce is allowed only if the marriage is to too close a relative – _________________
E) Divorce is allowed for any sexual ________________ or perversion such as those listed in Leviticus 18
Divorce is an extension of God’s ____________ to the sinner who should die
1 Corinthians 6:15-16 – In marriage, the two become one and sexual immorality ___________that bond
Remarriage is _______since the adultery does not occur for the innocent spouse until remarriage takes place
Jesus does not command or _______divorce, but only states the exception which does not multiply adultery
Separation – 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Verses 10-11: The Scriptures give room for __________. We protect the abused, not force them back into it
Those separated seek to _______________or remain single
Verses 12-16: do all you reasonably can to remain together, but you can let an unbelieving spouse ________
It is proper to force an spouse who continues to be unfaithful to _________between you and their paramour
This passage does not give approval for divorce and ________________- Matthew 5 & 19 still apply
The Christian ______divorce with it occurring only because of the spouse’s hardness of heart and sexual sin
The “innocent” spouse should be like Hosea – willing to _______________and seeking reconciliation
There are consequences to divorce, but even the guilty one can be washed, sanctified and justified by _____
Divorce causes terrible pain, but the Lord can heal those wounded by it
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